Council ‘facing up’ to the housing challenge

It’s both a constant challenge and one that seems to evolve – how do you solve a problem like a housing crisis? That’s the job facing James Doe, who is assistant director for planning, development and regeneration at Dacorum Borough Council.

The wall of his new office at The Forum is adorned by a large map of the area, and the task facing him is to find enough space on it to create 17,000 new homes by 2036 – a challenge which was set in 2011. While there have been big developments since then, it still results in a net build of 680 homes per year. “There’s a big challenge to meet that need,” he admits. “The government has asked councils to do an assessment of their housing needs, and we are in the middle of doing more work on that.

“We do a very thorough survey of the area for smaller sites where we look at where they can be built on in a sensitive way without compromising the area.”

Part of that problem is finding such spaces. It’s difficult to find a section of land where building on it suits everyone.

So what is the process of looking for such land, and at what point do they take the controversial turn towards looking at green belt land?

James says: “We look at what we can do in the town in the first instance. “The best example of that is the Kodak building overlooking the Plough (Magic) Roundabout in Hemel Hempstead, which has been converted to residential.

“That’s increasing the housing supply, but it’s also helping to revitalise the town centre. “We have to look at the benefits residents will get when looking at green belt.

“Government policy says we should review the classifications in exceptional circumstances.” Such circumstances have included the LA3 development to the west of Hemel Hempstead, an application with its critics, but would see 900 homes built on the site. There are also plans within the town itself, including sites at Maylands and Spencer’s Park. Then there’s the need to juggle what kind of homes are in each development – are they homes, flats, apartments or bungalows?

The council has a degree of say on that through setting its own policies, one of which is that each development should try to have 35 per cent of homes being either social or affordable.

So are developers playing ball?

James said: “We have done a lot of work on setting the criteria of policies. They are there to guide and steer the shape of the development.

“Developers will always be interested in the Dacorum area, it’s a very successful location for them. We have low unemployment and a thriving economy.”

So what are the next steps then for the council when it comes to addressing that need for more houses in the area?

“What we have to do from now on is continue the assessment of site availability,” says James. “We will be bringing forward a consultation later this year, around about in autumn, that will discuss the next steps of development across the whole area known as The New Local Plan for Dacorum. “The plan is something that we are required to do by law, and it’s not just about housing developments – it’s about the infrastructure and services that go with it.

“There are lots of issues at large here. But the housing target is always a challenge that the council has faced up to.”

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