John Graney Online.

Published by John Graney, Brading Town Councillor.
The views expressed here are all my own.
HTML and content copyright John Graney 2021

A personal view on Housing

Imagine if nobody lived in Brading, not just the town but the whole civil parish from near Tesco’s to Alverstone, from the edge of St Helens out to Ashey. Brading just stands empty, locked up or boarded up, houses and other buildings falling into disrepair. Meanwhile elsewhere on the island there are families with children living in bedsits or small flats with few amenities. There are people living in the woods. Some are in former holiday caravans and park homes. Many move from place to place, ‘sofa surfing’ with no home of their own.

It is true that most people on the island do not sleep outside at night. Measures taken during the pandemic have reduced the small number even more. However there are many who, although they can be said to be ‘housed’ are not adequately housed. Just watch as toddlers run around madly in church halls or similar spaces and sometimes in shops. They are not badly behaved. They are just rejoicing in the ability to stretch out their arms in open space and run. OK, in the summer they can go to the park but not when it’s pouring with rain or minus four degrees of wind-chill in a stiff easterly breeze.

And Brading stands empty. OK, Brading is not really a ghost town but in my illustration it stands for the 1662 empty properties on the Isle of Wight at the time of writing. (Source: Isle of Wight Council website.) Of these some have been unoccupied for less than 6 months and some are exempt from council tax (no reason for that is given). Therefore only a quarter (432) of them, which is still more than one in two hundred of the housing stock on the Isle of Wight, are considered ‘target properties’ by the council. Some work is being done to bring these back into use but progress is slow. Perhaps that is because of very few members of staff are allocated to this work.

The numbers above do not include family homes which have been taken out of the available housing stock to be used as second homes, holiday homes or holiday lets. I do not refer here to the ‘chalets’ constructed for short term occupation on holiday parks, but to houses in the street near where you live. All over the Island there are full sized family homes standing empty for the larger part of the year. Estate agents actually put “second home” into their online description to attract buyers (and presumably to add value too). Some of these will be occupied for a few days per year by their mainland owners. Others still will remain empty all year, many of them deteriorating to the point where they may become eyesores or even need to be demolished. (Some may have been inherited my multiple legatees who never agree on what should be done with them.)

The council should adopt policies which promote the provision of an appropriate number of new homes and include in that an aim to promote the sort of housing which island people need. Some, of course, are able to afford four bedroom detached homes but not all. Refurbishment of unused homes has a part in this as well as building from scratch.

There needs to be adequate provision of affordable housing for sale and for rent. We should also consider prioritising social housing to those with a link to the island and those moving here to take up employment in specified jobs such as teachers, nurses, doctors etc. (Such professions have been difficult to attract to the Island. Perhaps the answer is to better educate more of our own young people.)

At the same time new builds, conversions and refurbishments should be undertaken in a sustainable way. Affordable and social housing should not mean small, poorly or cheaply built on inadequate plots. We should look back to the work of the Parker Morris Committee on Space in the Home. This excellent and well thought out approach to building homes of an acceptable size and quality was abolished by the Thatcher government in 1980. Enough said! A modern version of the Parker Morris standard would ensure that all new housing would have a low environmental impact with low running costs and follow the best practice on eco-friendly homes.

Planning policy should also be used to prevent building new second homes. This has been done in St Ives in Cornwall where a policy that any new open-market housing be subject to a ‘full-time principal residence’ requirement. This was challenged by developers in a judicial review but the challenge failed. The High Court found the policy, in the St Ives Neighbourhood Plan, to be lawful. The Isle of Wight Council are currently reviewing the island plan in conjunction with their core strategy. Eventually a new plan will go to government and there will have or to be a public inquiry. A clause to a similar effect to the St Ives example should be added.

Still the government wants the island to build huge numbers of houses. I am not against building houses per se but the numbers proposed are an enormous problem. Once again the uniqueness of the island has not been taken into account. Central government appears to believe that the Isle of Wight is part of the same housing market as South Hampshire and even Winchester. They have, once again failed to notice that the word ‘isle’ means “island”. “Separated from the mainland by water”, “inaccessible by land”. If you take into account the time and cost of travelling or moving goods to and from the Island, the equivalent distance from Hampshire is about seventy miles. It is quicker and cheaper to get to Newport in Wales from Winchester than it is to get from there to Newport IW.

Should all those houses be built, far in excess of the needs of island people there would be a new influx of people from the mainland. There would be problems with infrastructure including electricity, water supply and waste water management. The new residents would be looking for work, education and quick, affordable transport to the mainland. There would even have to be changes to the way that food is supplied.

I am not saying that the present council has done nothing. Small steps have been taken. A company has been formed with a view to building affordable homes outside the restrictions placed on councils. Compulsory purchase orders have been proposed to the owners of derelict properties. However I strongly believe that a new sense of urgency is required. This problem needs to be gripped and vigorously shaken.