Housing policy has always interested me. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe the post war planners are responsible for so many of Britain's social ills. The high rise estates with no communal or defendable space, the sprawling municipal estates, built on windswept hills on the edge of our towns and cities, which tore apart long-established communities and placed people in isolated dependency, miles from their social networks and jobs.
If you think we have now learnt the lessons, think again. John Prescott's insistence on high density housing and limiting car parking spaces to 0.8 spaces per 'unit' is now creating new slums. If you need an example, take a look at Leybourne Park in Larkfield. Three hundred high density flats, with 200 car parking spaces between them with no shops or community facilities, and the few shared green spaces now used as car parks, as the people who live there need a car and have nowhere else to park. Many of the flats were sold to a London Housing Association, who have used the properties to house families from Lewisham, Deptford and Catford - miles from their families, friends and support groups. Many who have been moved here are from the BME community, and now find themselves in an isolated corner of semi rural Kent, where the local church is High Anglican and the shops don't cater for their needs. Is it any wonder communities don't develop and a sense of isolation takes hold?
Travelling along the Upper Medway yesterday I saw many plush new riverside developments lining the banks of the river as we left Maidstone. The riverfront properties were nicely built, well designed and clearly desirable places to live. Yet tucked in the corner of each stylish new development were the "social housing units" which developers are required to provide as part of the planning process. The problem here is also too obvious. The builders, not wanting to scare potential high value buyers, will always build the private housing first, using the best materials on the most desirable land. The social housing will be built last, and given the budget allocated to the builders for this, will always be of poorer quality and high density. The potential problems are clear; hostility from freeholders who believe the social housing effects their property values and a sense of isolation from the tenants who feel they are "looked down upon" by their rich and snobby neighbours.
Perhaps one solution might be to change the law to require developers to build social housing for retired people. I can see many advantages of this. Retired people as a rule are good neighbours. There are exceptions, but they generally don't have noisy parties, they tend to maintain their gardens, put their rubbish our the day the dustman comes, clear up their own mess and get along with each other. I cannot see residents objecting to 20 or 30 retirement flats built as part of the development, nor can I imagine the retirees feeling a great sense of social injustice or envy living next to the rich and wealthy. Furthermore, it is far easier for social services and the other agencies to provide services when people with a shared need live in close proximity.
And here is the other advantage, we are short of family homes for rent yet and there are tens of thousands of older people, often living alone, in two and three bedroom houses. One of the complaints against the Bedroom Tax is there are insufficient one bedroom properties to move to. If developers were required to build retirement properties not two and three bedroom family houses as part of their social housing obligation, and older people were encouraged to move by providing assistance with removal costs and relocation expenses, suddenly tens of thousands of larger properties would become available for housing families.
To me this seems a logical thing to do.