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Preston -v- Longridge: A tale of two house-building problems

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Too many planning applications for new homes approved, not enough houses being built.

That’s the story in Preston’s neighbour Longridge according to a town councillor who has called for a moratorium on planning consents and accused the plc housebuilders of land-banking, not building.

Ken Hind claims the town’s allocation of new homes has been exceeded and of those given permission 870 have yet to be started.

He told the Lancashire Post: “It looks good on the company balance sheet – land worth 50 times more with planning consent than without it – but does not help elderly people wanting retirement bungalows in Longridge.

“The housing market is strangled in Longridge because the Preston Council has granted applications for 800 homes on the Whittingham side of Longridge without the need to consider what Ribble Valley are doing or consideration of the local market.”

Leaving aside his complaint about alleged non-co-operation between two neighbouring councils, Coun Hind’s point is that existing residents fear too many homes will be given the go-ahead with Longridge’s current infrastructure and amenities unable to cope with the additional people, traffic and pressure on local services.

On an almost contradictory note he also claims these homes are not being built and are, quite possibly, the wrong sort of houses.

Longridge is typical of many small towns in Britain whose surrounding fields and green belt are under more pressure than ever before from housebuilders looking for large plots to develop easily.

Three and four bedroom detached or semis are the norm and clearly aimed at young families, their schoolkids and their cars.

Despite Government’s best efforts to promote brownfield development you don’t see the Barratt’s and the Wimpey’s and the Taylor Woodrow’s sniffing around the centres of neighbouring towns and cities like Preston looking for those nuggets of opportunity, the derelict mills, abandoned warehouses and empty office blocks.

And it’s in Preston where we can see the problem of sites being acquired, planning consent being granted and then…..nothing. For years. Sometimes decades.

Picked up for a relative pittance by smaller developers or opportunists with a bit of spare cash, these often historic buildings are left to rot as their surroundings slide ever further into dereliction.

Because these would-be property speculators do not have the experience or vision to realise their dream. Nor do they have the financial resources to build to break even (in the worst case scenario) and see something worthwhile built.

It is time for councils to get tough on stalled planning consents and landowners, force development to begin or risk their land or property being compulsorily purchased and given to a developer who is ready to start on site.

Preston is either at the beginning of a city living phenomenon (and we await the publication of the council’s strategy to deliver this) or it’s about to witness yet another false dawn.

There seems to be a realisation in both City Hall and County Hall that they have to give City Living an initial boost just to get the party started.

As Councillor Peter Rankin, leader of Preston City Council, said at the launch of the City Living Strategy last July: “It’s about making it as easy as possible for investors and developers to invest.

“About marketing the city and making it clear that Preston is a fantastic location to live and work.

“That now’s the time to invest in Preston.

“The opportunity is there, the infrastructure is there and the will to make it happen is there from all partners and the local business community too.”

This opportunity will not have interested the national housebuilders, nor will it excite existing landowners who can still only see development-stopping low valuations versus construction costs.

A new breed of developer is required to work with the councils, develop the vision, take a risk on being first out of the gate.

Unlike in Longridge, where the cry is “too much already!” in Preston it’s more “will someone build something, somewhere? Please?”

With the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) today warning that rental prices expected to increase by more than 20% across the next five years and house prices are projected to increase at a slightly slower rate of 18% over the same period, it’s clear the viability of city centre home-building aimed at owner-occupiers is on a knife edge.

If help is forthcoming we may yet see Preston become the vibrant city it has the potential to be; if caution and conservatism win the day then be prepared for another couple of decades of stasis.

And if Preston fails to regenerate, the pressure on towns like Longridge won’t let up.

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Neil Thornton

Neil Thornton

Director at Thornton Media
Neil Thornton is an award-winning writer and journalist who is an expert in property, housing, architecture and design.

He has been at the forefront of the UK property scene for 15 years and has been published in major newspapers, magazines and influential websites around the world.
Neil Thornton

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