Start building now, council pleads

Developers are being urged to start work on hundreds of homes to hit targets
Developers are being urged to start work on hundreds of homes to hit targets

Under-pressure Harborough District Council wants an urgent meeting with house builders in the area to ask them: “Can you build any faster?”

The council has been asked to build 638 homes a year for the next five years.

It’s about the equivalent of building four Langton villages – Church, Thorpe, East and West Langton – every year in the Harborough district.

Both the ruling Conservatives and opposition Liberal Democrats say that the new Government-approved house-building figure is much too high.

And the Conservatives add that even when enough planning applications are granted, they are completely in the hands of builders who move at a speed dictated by markets – not by local councils or the Government.

The council’s portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Phil King, said he was “pessimistic” that this 638-home target could be achieved.

Opposition leader Cllr Phil Knowles goes further, saying: “Our infrastructure is already creaking.

“Personally, I’m not prepared to simply sit back and accept this.”

For years, Harborough Council has been operating on a target of 350 new houses each year.

That all changed after a planning enquiry in Broughton Astley, where a planning inspector – later backed by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government and secretary of state Eric Pickles – ruled that Harborough’s housing strategy was out of date.

The inspector said the most recent information showed that the council in fact needed to build 440 houses a year.

Add in a “catch-up” backlog and a buffer and the new target for the district council becomes 638 homes a year.

“We’ve had to re-calculate our five-year housing supply,” explained Cllr King.

“I’m very disappointed that the coalition Government has said we must use these figures.

“And in the end, it isn’t just about planning consent – we think we’re doing enough on that – it’s about whether developers can deliver enough houses every year.”

He said the council planned to meet major developers in September to see if 638 homes a year was achievable.

He explained that the council would be asking developers whether they can speed up their building programmes on sites that Harborough has already given planning permission to.

“My feeling at the moment is it just isn’t do-able,” he said. “But if it isn’t, we need to collect evidence and put a cogent argument to the minister.”

Cllr Knowles added: “My immediate response is ‘how on earth have we ended up here?’

“I think we need to go down to London and address this important issue with the powers-that-be.

“This is a real concern and a real mess – with the potential for huge impact on the existing community, and those who would move into the Harborough area.”