It is generally accepted amongst us Brits that because we live on a small island with an ever-growing population, house prices will continue to increase. Official figures suggest 250,000 new homes are needed each year in the UK to keep up with demand, and yet last year only 217,000 were built.
In last week’s Budget the Chancellor announced plans to start building 300,000 new homes a year, which raises the question…where are they all going to go?
It may surprise you to hear that only 5.9 per cent of the UK is actually built on, with the majority (56.7 per cent) being used as farmland, 2.5 per cent being designated as ‘green urban’ (that’s parks, gardens and recreational space) and the other 34.9 per cent remaining natural. So, all the houses, roads, shops, businesses, airports and other buildings take up less than 6 per cent of the nation — which is quite amazing when you think about it.
As we spend most of our time in built-up areas it’s often only when we fly home from holiday and look out the plane’s window we are reminded how green Britain actually is!
When we extract Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland from the figures though (a huge 71 per cent of Scotland remains completely untouched, with just 2 per cent being built upon), the data indicates that an average of 8.8 per cent of England is built on, with 3.8 per cent green urban, 72.9 per cent farmland and just 14.5 per cent remaining natural.
Here in Chichester we’re less than half as densely urbanised than most of England, as we benefit from just 4% of the District being built upon. A further 2 per cent of land is green urban, 69 per cent farmland and, not surprisingly for an area that includes the South Downs, a higher-than-average 25 per cent of our land remains natural.
I fear this abundancy of open space is why central government sees Chichester as an easy target to take on more housing – with directives to build thousands of new homes in the coming years (the current local plan sets 435 per year as a target, but this figure is likely to be increased in the 2020 review to 505-650 per year).
The higher-end of that range would equate to more than 7,000 additional homes being built by 2030, which is a significant increase on the 50,000 or so existing properties in the Chichester District today.
So where are we going to build these new homes? It’s all well and good for central government to push for these schemes, but the knock-on effect is the strain upon local infrastructure i.e. the roads, public transport, schools, hospitals and other public services that need to be enhanced and added to.
Well, the development at Whitehouse Farm is set to be the biggest in Chichester’s history, with 1,600 new homes planned. And farmland is also under threat in Shopwhyke, Westhampnett and Tangmere.
But surely all these new residents will need to eat, so continuously building on farmland isn’t sustainable in the long-run. Unless housing is to be more densely built (think taller but smaller new-build units, with a lack of outdoor space) it seems the quarter of our district’s land that remains natural could be under threat.
Whilst the Government has made loose promises about the green belt being safe from development, it seems that there will come a time when there is little option than to build upon the open spaces that inherently make Chichester and the surrounding areas such a joyous place to live.