Housing in a Spin

Revolving door leaves housing in a spin

Even people connected to the sector are hard put to answer the question: who is this week’s housing minister? The answer, since 20 September 2022, is Lee Rowley, the Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire, but before he gets too many business cards printed he might remember that he is, incredibly, the 23rd housing minister since 1997. They don’t last long, especially recently (more than one a year for the last 12).  And we may hear about next week’s any time soon – and that is a problem.

Continuity matters in all aspects of public policy and for relationships with such key figures to be effective, they need to be forged and nurtured over time. Housing, we have noticed, takes time to happen, plans can easily stall – and appointing a new minister every few months or so is not easing the pathway to achievement.

It is inevitable that political volatility results in mixed messaging – and in the sphere of housing this leads to prolonged difficulties for the already disadvantaged.

Rowley, 42, a former management consultant, describes his new role as “a big job to help raise standards and service across the sector, to improve how planning works for local communities and, vitally, to empower more people to achieve their dream of home ownership”.

We look forward to hearing in detail his progress with planning “improvements” for local communities and how his intention to promote greater home ownership is going, against a background of financial instability and an affordability gap that is seemingly unbridgeable for so many.

We wish him luck – and who knows if his tenure will last long enough to do some good, as his hapless predecessor only lasted 61 days.


Stewart Brown

Stewart Brown’s contribution to the Haslemere CLT

Many of our followers will have seen the obituary and tributes to Stewart Brown who sadly died last month.  Of his legacies for the community the best known is the Neighbourhood Plan driven through by Haslemere Vision inspired and led by his chairmanship.  But the Community Land Trust will remember him mainly because he was instrumental in promoting the concept and the principal instigator of a Community Land Trust in Haslemere against some quite determined opposition.  He inspired and helped build the strong team that is the Steering Group, and was always happy to advise and guide.

At the CLT’s AGM in January 2022 he will be in our thoughts, not least because it will be the first in which he will not be there providing his customary generous compliments, encouragement and advice.  The CLT will be forever in his debt.  Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. He will be greatly missed by the town and all who knew him.

Rolling R’s in Haslemere?

Rolling Rs, mouth vowels and scribs – can you still tell our born and bred? 

As Haslemere CLT continues its search for sites, and Londoners snap up more prime property, Martin James listens out for the authentic voice of the true locals – but does a local accent still exist?

You get some funny looks when asking High Street passers-by to repeat this sentence: “I work 14 hours Saturdays for a far older farmer.” But doing so carries less risk than a question such as “Excuse me, madam, do you roll your Rs?” which is likely to get your face slapped. 

After recently writing a Herald article about an influx of Londoners pushing up house prices and edging out our young people and workers, I was now wondering if it’s actually possible to tell a born-and-bred local from an incomer – and perhaps one way is to listen for the local accent.

“What local accent?” many would say, believing that any such speech pattern there might once have been across the area is now diluted beyond recognition by the swamp of Estuary English. This flat, classless, all-purpose accent has washed in strongly here since the war, also gradually merging with the often heard Received Pronunciation (sometimes called BBC English, or described as “well spoken” and “posh”).  

But, in amongst it, this local accent does survive – you pick it up here and there in village shop or country pub, whispers from our rural and less mobile past slowly fading as years, and people, go on their way. It’s a Surrey-Hampshire-West Sussex border accent, with a kind of “burr” and sort of phonetic quirks that sound… Well, maybe trying to describe it is best left to an expert, and there are none better placed than Jonnie Robinson, Curator of Spoken English at the British Library.

(see the links below to hear recordings curated by the British Library)

“There are clearly identifiable markers in the speech of older and more rural-dwelling members of your community,” says Robinson, “and the farther west you travel within it, the more the accent sounds rather West Country. Key things to listen out for around Haslemere and Farnham are ‘rhotic’ speech (rolling of the R sound in words such as ‘farm’) and what is called the ‘mouth vowel’ that turns ‘house’ into more like ‘hewse’. Also notable is what is known as the ‘price vowel’ that bends ‘price’ towards ‘proice’.”

Hopefully, readers will have got some idea from that and it will have rung a bell or two. Certainly it did with Charles Beckerson, headteacher of St Bart’s Primary in Haslemere. “That sounds right to me,” he says. “I’ve grown up here to the age of 43 now and, while my speech passes unremarked around the area, when I travel away people often say that I sound a bit West Country.” 

But while the local accent is more discernible in older residents, children everywhere have at least one “giveaway” in their speech – and Robinson points to the school playground for clues. “Children always have a word for calling a kind of time-out, pause or surrender in a game of chase or a tussle,” he says, “and this ‘truce word’ varies from place to place. Round your way I think you’ll find it is ‘scribs’.”  

After the tricky encounter with the “rolling Rs” woman in the High Street, I wasn’t going to risk further and deeper trouble by entering school playgrounds asking kids what they would say if chased into a corner. Robinson’s theory therefore remains untested – but no doubt readers and their children will confirm or deny the possibly controversial “scribs” hypothesis.

Our aim as the Haslemere Community Land Trust is to help local young people and key workers who are struggling to afford a home to be able to stay in the area and put down the kind of roots that keep such accents and idioms alive. But to do that we need sites suitable for affordable housing. Please give it some thought and see if you can help with the suggestion of a plot or patch of ground for us to build homes for our own. 

Local voices come alive via the following links, kindly provided by Jonnie Robinson, which take you to recordings held by the British Library.

Recorded in Thursley in 1959


Courtesy of British Library © BBC

Recorded in Milland, West Sussex, in 1998


Courtesy of British Library © BBC

Recorded in Elstead in 1998 


Courtesy of British Library © University of Leeds

Haslemere Herald

The content of this news post was published in the Haslemere Herald today (5th August 2021)

Planning for the Future – government White Paper

Planning for the Future – the lie of the land in the government White Paper

On Thursday 6 August, Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, announced radical plans to overhaul the planning system in England. The proposals, intended to lay foundations for delivering 300,000 new homes a year in England, were put out to consultation in a White Paper entitled “Planning for the Future” – and they immediately provoked controversy. Here are the key features and links for more details and responses.

The aim, according to the government, is to “streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.”

One notable feature is the obligation for local authorities to bring forward simplified local plans zoning all land in their areas for “growth”, “renewal” or “protection”. Areas zoned for “growth” will be subject to “substantial development” and will benefit from outline permission, but developers will still need to secure reserved matters permission in accordance with locally drawn-up design codes. 

“Renewal” areas will be deemed suitable for some development, such as densification and infill development, and will be accorded a statutory “presumption in favour” of development. Schemes that comply with locally drawn-up design codes will benefit from a “fast-track for beauty” recommended by the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission.

Development will be restricted on land in the “protection” category to maintain the special status of land defined as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, part of the Green Belt or a National Park, where, essentially, the existing planning process will apply. 

New-style stripped back local plans will need to be produced in 30 months (against a current average of seven years) and will have greater strength in that they will confer planning permission to “growth” sites. Councils will lose the ability to set local policies, with all planning policy being set nationally with local plans restricted to development allocation and the specific codes and standards to be applied to projects in the development zones. 

Some housing experts are predicting the use of algorithms in the application of policies; and amid suggestions that Surrey might become the domain of a unitary local authority – it appears that decision-making is becoming more remote from communities. Localism, it seems, is on the ropes.

The plans also include the scrapping of “Section 106”, the system by which developers contribute mitigating payments, and the evolution of the existing Community Infrastructure Levy into a nationally-set levy on development value.

Central government will impose housing targets determined by a “standard method” (another algorithm?) on local authorities – and worth noting especially for Haslemere is the avowed intention that housing numbers will take into account the presence of constraints on growth, such as Green Belt. Given a perception of looming “democracy deficit”, therefore, communities will be well advised to seek any local land-classification changes in good time. 

Another proposal will see developers only facing a requirement to include an element of affordable housing if they are building 40 or 50 homes (this against the current threshold of 10). This change would be for an initial period of 18 months to help smaller developers get over the economic problems arising from the Coronavirus pandemic, it is said.

So what will these changes mean for affordable housing? The government claims to be “more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain”, but doubts are widespread. 

The National Housing Federation, for example, called for clarity on what would replace the Section 106 agreements, which delivered almost 28,000 affordable homes, about half of the 2019 total. Its chief executive, Kate Henderson, asked how a new national levy would enable the much trumpeted “levelling up” of communities. And, according to the local government association for Greater London, the changes are potentially disastrous and could reduce the amount of affordable housing built.

There is restlessness also among backbench Conservative MPs over the disposition of new housing, as it is feared the Southeast is set for a disproportionately large share. Indeed, the Sunday Times of 13 September carried the headline: “Tory MPs rage at housing plan to ‘concrete’ over the shires”.

Clearly, though none of this will happen overnight, vigilance and preparedness are going to be vital in protecting community interests.

Know your AGLV from your SSI, CLT and Green Belt?

Reproduced from the Haslemere Herald, 4th July 2019, with their kind permission.

Significant and controversial housing development proposals are emerging everywhere, and there has been much reference to official land designations.  But do we understand the difference between brown field, AONB, AVLG, Green Belt and so on?  Martin James, the deputy chairman of the Haslemere Community Land Trust, guides us through the minefield…

Where do you stand on land in and around Haslemere? It is a question being asked with increasing frequency and urgency as major development proposals are brought forward. And, as discussions, consultations and controversies increase, it can appear that establishing quite where you stand is no simple matter. 

For while your feet may seem planted on an apparently insignificant and familiar stretch of ground, you could at the same time have one foot in an AONB, the other in an AGLV, and also be slap-bang in the Green Belt. It’s a minefield.  

To most people, most of the time, these unmarked classifications overlapping and crisscrossing our landscape seem as irrelevant as they are unobserved – and it is only when change is suggested that the public sits up, takes notice and says: “Hang on, what’s all this about Field A? I walk my dog up there!” or, perhaps, “Hey, I hear there’s going to be some affordable housing built there – might be a chance for our son and his smelly gym kit to move out and get their own home!”   

Whatever planning issue arises, those widely mystifying initials and land descriptions are likely to crop up and then you might find it useful to know your Brownfield Site from your Strategic Gap, and so on. This lay person’s guide provides a few stepping-stones towards the knowledge and language of the planners and developers. 

AONB is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nationally designated. Any development must respect and conserve the character of the landscape.

AGLV is an Area of Great Landscape Value. Locally designated. Complementary and usually overlapping or next to AONB, and subject to similar policies aiming to ensure the character of the landscape is protected.

ASVI is an Area of Strategic Visible Importance. Open land that stretches into urban area and prevents settlements coalescing.

SSSI is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Protected area, such as important wildlife habitat.

Settlement Boundary is the line defining the limits of a town or village, generally allowing for development within but not without.  

Metropolitan Green Belt is the zone of largely undeveloped land surrounding London. Development only in very special circumstances. 

Greenfield Site is an urban or rural area hitherto undeveloped thus virgin territory for development.

Brownfield Site is an urban or rural area previously developed. Municipal, domestic or industrial site for demolition and development, or conversion.  

Strategic Gap is an uncultivated area between settlements to prevent them merging and to protect their separate identities.  

Rural Exception Site is land normally just outside a village settlement boundary where affordable housing can be built.

CLT is a Community Land Trust, a form of community-led housing, set up and run by ordinary local people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets. 

Haslemere Community Land Trust is a not-for-profit community benefit society working to provide affordable homes for local people. Haslemere is a lovely town, with excellent transport links and glorious countryside – but such desirability has led to high property prices that mean many young residents and modestly paid workers are locked out of the housing market and often have to move away. A lack of social-housing provision only adds to the problem. Haslemere CLT can build housing that remains affordable for ever, and will be sited and constructed only with the support of local people. To join or learn more visit haslemereclt.org.uk

Over 3,500 community led homes at risk

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Over 3,500 community led homes at risk if Government doesn’t put things right.

Late last year the National CLT Network submitted a Freedom of Information request to Homes England. This revealed that there are over 3,500 community led homes in the Community Housing Fund pipeline. This is an exciting prospect considering it’s been less than nine months since the fund was opened. But many could be scuppered unless the Community Housing Fund is extended.

The Community Housing Fund, outside of London, is due to close for bids in December 2019. Most of the groups bringing forward those 3,500 homes will need access to capital funding for their affordable homes into next year and beyond, if they’re to get those homes completed.

The number might seem small in the scheme of things. But these are homes being developed to meet very particular needs communities. They matter, and the people behind them will be devastated if the Government pulls the rug from under them.

Groups building standard types of affordable housing like affordable rent and shared ownership will still be able to bid for the mainstream affordable homes funding. But innovative approaches won’t qualify, and new groups will lose access to unique revenue funding to develop their plans. Frankly, ending the Fund so quickly will be a farce!

The National CLT Network lobbied for and secured this fund in 2016. After a rocky start, it helped the Government design the current programme, and persuade them to aim not just to build some homes but to grow the community led housing movement. The network is steadily building the expertise and capacity in communities and the wider housing industry for this to be much more mainstream.

It was always envisioned that this would be a five-year fund. That would give groups the time to develop their projects, and the sector time to grow, But delays have meant this part of the Fund will only be open to bids for 18 months. A turnaround time like this would be tricky for seasoned housing developers never mind CLTs, which are mostly powered by volunteers. This isn’t taking into consideration the quite lengthy process to register as a social housing provider, which some CLTs may decide to go through.

Last week, London’s Community Housing Fund was announced. The GLA operates separate systems to Homes England, and they’ve done a fantastic job adapting the fund to the capital. The news was all the sweeter because in London the Fund stays open until 2023. Great news for Londoners, but not very fair for groups in the rest of England.

The Haslemere CLT has written to our local Member of Parliament, Jeremy Hunt.