Councillors in Hucknall are calling for an end to building in the town after claiming that a new report shows that the area has already fulfilled its quota of new-build properties.
The document identifies that a total of 2,886 new houses must be built in Hucknall before the year 2033 to cope with a predicted growth in the population. That equates to 148 per year.
But campaigners and critics say this figure is already covered by the host of major projects either on the table or partially completed, such as those for Rolls-Royce and the Wigwam/Papplewick Green site.
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As a result, Conservative politicians are calling on Ashfield District Council to quickly come up with a new Local Plan - the blueprint for future development in the area.
And a fresh drive has been launched to ensure that Hucknall is given top priority when it comes to investment in infrastructure, such as new roads to tackle traffic congestion, schools and doctors’ surgeries, so that the town can cope with the influx of households.
Ashfield needs to recognise that Hucknall has fulfilled its duty in terms of new houses
“Ashfield needs to recognise that Hucknall has fulfilled its duty in terms of new houses, and halt the development until the infrastructure catches up with the demand,” say two of the town’s newly-elected Conservative members of Ashfield Council, Coun Kevin Rostance and Coun Ben Bradley.
“Otherwise, life is just going to get tougher and tougher for local people.”
The report is a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) that was commissioned by Ashfield District Council, along with Mansfield District Council and Newark and Sherwood District Council. Spanning 229 pages, it has been prepared by property consultants G.L.Hearn Ltd, and goes into complex detail about the housing market in the three areas.
It reveals that Ashfield is the most overcrowded of the three. Its population has grown by 6 per cent since 2002 to 121,553.
But it is forecast to grow again by 2033 - to 135,226 - leaving the district with the need to find 480 new homes each year until then.
Of these, the report stresses the importance in building smaller, more affordable homes, especially two or three-bedroomed properties, to match the relatively low earnings of many people within the district.
The average house-price in Ashfield in 2014 was £117,340, the report says.
But an increase in prices over the last decade has put home-ownership beyond the reach of many, while the size of mortgage-deposits puts off many first-time buyers.
“There is a particularly high percentage of residents with no qualifications and those who work in unskilled occupations, in comparison to the region and the nation,” the report discloses.
Also contributing to overcrowding was a high percentage of households with parents aged 35 to 45 and dependent children aged 15 and under, plus “a significant growth in single-person households”.
Although many current applications and developments they have been cloaked in controversy and opposed by vigorous public protests, all the projects have been given the go-ahead or look likely to be.
Critics say many of the new homes are three or four-bedroomed properties, which do not meet the criteria set out in the report.
Additionally, they say Ashfield District Council does not currently have a Local Plan in place which it can use to reject future planning applications. In other words, a rigid set of stipulations that say where and why developers can or cannot build.
From 2012, the council spent two years formulating a Local Plan, only for it to be withdrawn on the advice of a government inspector who declared it “probably unsound” because it didn’t make clear why certain sites were suitable for development and others were not.
In its defence, the council said it was “trying to balance writing a plan with trying to support economic growth - in the context of two-thirds of Ashfield being located within the Green Belt”.
In response to the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) report, Ashfield District Council’s newly appointed chief executive, Robert Mitchell told the Dispatch: “The council is taking the opportunity to engage with strategic stakeholders and others to ensure that, when finalised, this SHMA report will form a robust and comprehensive base for the Local Plan.
“We are working towards a Local Plan that will balance the need for new homes with the need for new infrastructure.
“In following the legally required process, the council is undertaking a range of studies that provide a sound-evidence basis to set housing targets and policy, including the allocation of sites for housing. The SHMA is part of that process, although it does not set the housing target.
“As part of the Local Plan process, there will also be public consultation. We will encourage active participation in that consultation to ensure people are aware of the evidence and have an opportunity to comment.”
Mr Mitchell says the council hopes to have a Local Plan available for consultation “towards the end of the year”. He adds:
“The number of homes identified in the SHMA report is generated from government population projections and the assessment of local need. When complete, our Local Plan will inform the council’s approach to housing numbers.”
But now Conservative Hucknall councillors are turning up the heat on the Ashfield authority.
“It seems that Hucknall has met its housing needs in just a couple of years, rather than by 2033, and it’s clear we are in this position because we have no Local Plan in place,” say Couns Rostance and Bradley.
“The Labour-led Ashfield Council spent years and thousands of pounds on a new plan proposal that was not fit for purpose, and they have left us in a position where we can’t oppose major developments.
“The risk is that developers can continue to flood Hucknall with housing because we’re told no Local Plan will be in place until 2017 .”
Given such a risk, the pressure on Hucknall’s infrastructure is now considered by some to be at breaking point, even though some of the major projects do encompass proposals for schools and leisure amenities.
This is recognised by the town’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, who says: “Almost every day, I have constituents in Hucknall saying they can’t get places at local schools for their children, they can’t get a doctor’s appointment and the traffic situation in town is a nightmare.
“It’s past time the problem was recognised by local councils who need to fix it.”
Now all four of Hucknall’s Conservative councillors at Ashfield, including Mick Murphy, have written to Nottinghamshire County Council, urging them to join forces with Ashfield and Gedling councils to formulate a policy “to invest in services in and around Hucknall that are desperately required”.
With the level of new building that now seems certain to happen, this area needs to be a major priority for investment,” reads the letter.
“Gedling’s plans will turn the quiet villages of Linby and Papplewick into annexes of Hucknall and put a great deal of strain on local services. Therefore Ashfield will not only be dealing with its own building plans but will also be tasked with providing support and infrastructure for 2,500 Gedling residents - and without the benefit of income from the developers or council tax.
“Local services are already stretched, and problems with congestion in Hucknall are only going to get worse.”