Monday, 24 February 2014

Is the tide turning against floodplain housing?

With the floodwaters now receding in many parts of the country, the politicians, hard-pressed Environment Agency and insurers are blaming each other – but apart from those residents who actually bore the brunt of the rising waters, could the biggest casualties be the country’s housebuilders?

The Association of British Insurers was quick to fire the first salvo, criticising builders for ‘cheap and cheerful’ developments in areas at risk of flooding after a meeting at Downing Street. Some insurers even suggested: ‘no defences, no development’.

The press has portrayed the housebuilders as the bad guys in the recent flooding debacle. But is that fair? 

With elections on the horizon, politicians will inevitably try to deflect criticism from themselves, and don’t be surprised if they become even more risk averse, putting the onus for sorting out the problem on the under-resourced Environment Agency or the development industry – or taking the easy option and refusing permission.

With mounting pressure to build more homes to accommodate the growing population, especially in the south east, it is easy to understand why development on floodplains has been permitted. An estimated 200,000 homes were built on floodplains between 2000 and 2011. However, securing planning permission in the future without developers agreeing to pick up all or most of the bill for flood protection as part of any S106 agreements appears unlikely.

Much has been made in the press of the recent 23 per cent rise in house building starts in 2013, a six-year high of 122,590. However, the performance remains well off the peak of 183,000 in the 12 months to March 2006, and less than half of the 250,000 homes needed each year just to keep up with demand.

With the National Planning Policy Framework requiring a ‘five year housing land supply’ as a minimum, and the financial carrot of the New Homes Bonus being dangled, councils will be under pressure to allocate land within their local plans. Given the ease of construction on floodplains these sites will inevitably be identified.

Over the next few years in Kent it will be interesting to watch as local authorities announce their housing targets – the important questions being where will the houses be built, who by, when, and what will be the reaction of the local community to the proposals? 

All Kentcentric knows is that there’s a big job to be done to educate politicians, the public and media alike about the whole housebuilding agenda.

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