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Save Our Green Spaces: Why brownfield sites make ideal homes
Most people agree that the Bradford district needs new housing. The population is increasing, the market for existing homes is in stasis as prices remain out of the reach of first time buyers or those on limited incomes, and mortgage lending is still in the doldrums.
Where the battle lines are drawn, though, is over how many new homes the area needs, what type of houses they should be and – perhaps most crucially – where they should be built.
Bradford Council is drawing up its Local Plan at the moment which will essentially set out which areas are eligible to be built upon over the next 15 years. The Regional Spatial Strategy, set up by the Labour government, said that Bradford needed to built 45,900 new homes. A report commissioned by the council which was released earlier this month, however, put forward several fresh estimates based on various scenarios of population increase and job creation, the lowest of which was 37,572.
The Regional Spatial Strategy is no more, revoked by the Coalition Government, and local authorities such as Bradford Council are, in a way, back to square one and are responsible for choosing their own preferred targets.
In other words, no-one can truly predict how much housing is going to be required for the district between now and 2028. But while councils wade through red tape to come up with workable Local Plans, housing developers have seen the whole idea of targets as a green light to grab as much green space as they can for new developments.
And here is the crux of the problem, and the reason why the Telegraph & Argus launched its Save Our Green Spaces campaign. It could be argued that the rolling hills and windswept moors of West Yorkshire are what make God’s Own County great – and who wouldn’t want a slice of that to call their very own?
That’s the view of the housing companies, for example Harron Homes. The company has its eye on a green field off Crack Lane in Wilsden. In 2012 it applied to build 73 houses on the parcel of land. It was turned down by Bradford Council, and an appeal by the developer was due to start next month. But that probably won’t go ahead now, as Harron put in an amended application addressing the original concerns about parking, drainage and the mix of housing, and offered to upgrade the local school and recreational facilities.
This second application – for 82 homes – was last week approved. This is despite a 700-name petition from local residents, Wilsden Parish Council, and Shipley MP Philip Davies, who described the outcome as “a kick in the teeth”.
But the green and pleasant land is only half the story of God’s Own County. Yorkshire was the industrial engine room of the nation – the Empire, even – a century and half ago. Those days are long gone but their legacy – mills, factories, huge tracts of rubble-strewn land which form Bradford’s post-industrial landscape – are apparent all around us.
The Save Our Green Spaces campaign never claimed to be against progress, or denying people nice places to live. It was about looking at what type of housing was needed – the key word being “affordable” – and the best place to put it. And dotted around Bradford, close to existing amenities, near ready-made communities, on existing bus and train routes, are these so-called “brownfield” post-industrial sites, begging to be developed.
That’s certainly the view of Incommunities, Bradford’s biggest social housing provider. Chief Executive Geraldine Howley describes the current housing situation as nothing less than a “crisis”, one being compounded by “the shortage of affordable housing and the difficulty of getting on to the housing ladder”.
To this end, Incommunities is currently at various stages of redeveloping several sites that are either housing areas that have come to the end of their natural life, or former industrial land. One of these is Woodend at Shipley, on land formerly occupied by run-down eyesores of old flats. For this development, Incommunities teamed up with Keepmoat, formed last year from a conglomeration of various companies, which describes itself as “the provider of choice for all residential regeneration and development projects in the UK”.
Geraldine Howley again: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Keepmoat to deliver much needed affordable homes for local families. This joint development is progressing well and is set to provide a significant boost to the area.”
What this is translating to, in bricks and mortar terms, is a development of 136 two, three and four-bedroom homes.
The new homes are all designed to Government targets on sustainability, meaning they have excellent insulation, are energy efficient and are fitted with high-standard double glazing.
Incommunities and Keepmoat have also worked on the Ravenscliffe estate in Bradford where outmoded properties have been gradually demolished over the past decade. Last summer the second phase of 56 homes was completed, with half handed over to Incommunities for rent, while an earlier phase saw 80 homes completed, 45 put in the control of the housing trust.
Perhaps one of the most startling transformations has been the old Chain Street flat complex on the edge of Bradford city centre – not so long ago it was a vermin-infested, boarded up, haunt of drug dealers and muggers. Now it is being transformed into family homes, within walking distance of the city centre amenities – exactly what the Save Our Green Spaces campaign is all about.
Jez Lester, Incommunities’ assistant chief executive, says: “The re-development of the Chain Street area is a priority for Incommunities and this site clearance marks a big step towards the regeneration of this key site for the benefit of city centre home hunters.
“It also makes good business sense to reuse the site to provide affordable larger homes rather than touch green-field areas.”
And there is the ethos of Save Our Green Spaces in a nutshell. Lest anyone think that redeveloping brownfield or existing sites only works in the inner city, though, take a look at another Incommunities development in leafy Ilkley. It might be Millionaires’ Row to some, but that doesn’t mean everyone who grew up there or who wants to move to Ilkley has that kind of money to spend.
On Fieldway, Incommunities has been working on a development of 25 high-quality family homes, comprising 20 for sale and five for rent, enabling a healthy social mix in a bid to wipe out the “ghettoisation” – real or perceived – that might have arisen when social housing was clumped together all one one estate away from the “paid for” homes.
Martin Smith, group chairman of Incommunities, said: “This development is good news for families looking for affordable, high quality homes and good news for the town. The development demonstrates our commitment to developing brownfield land and protecting green field sites.”
The question is, will the other house-builders wake up to the brownfield sites ripe for development before 2028?