“Housing need is an unconstrained assessment of the number of homes needed in an area. Assessing housing need is the first step in the process of deciding how many homes need to be planned for. It should be undertaken separately from assessing land availability, establishing a housing requirement figure and preparing policies to address this such as site allocations.” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/housing-and-economic-development-needs-assessments
So far, so good? Ok, onwards and forwards:
“A 35% uplift is then applied for those urban local authorities in the top 20 cities and urban centres list. Whether a cities and urban centres uplift applies depends on whether the local authority contains the largest proportion of population for one of the 20 cities or urban centres in England within the list. The cities and urban centres list is devised by ranking the Office for National Statistics list of Major Towns and Cities by population size using the latest mid-year population estimates. As at December 2020, this list of urban local authorities are: Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Kingston upon Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Plymouth, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, and Wolverhampton”
Right, so Reading is in the top 20 of urban local authorities requiring a 35% uplift. But what is this “Urban Uplift”?
“The increase in the number of homes to be delivered is expected to be met by the cities and urban centres themselves, rather than the surrounding areas. In considering how need is met in the first instance, brownfield and other under-utilised urban sites should be prioritised to promote the most efficient use of land. Development should align with the character of local neighbourhoods in urban areas and support the building of green homes. This is to ensure that homes are built in the right places, to make the most of existing infrastructure, and to allow people to live nearby the services they rely on, making travel patterns more sustainable. Local planning authorities should co-operate on that basis"
The rationale for this is given as: "First, building in existing cities and urban centres ensures that new homes can maximise existing infrastructure such as public transport, schools, medical facilities and shops. Second, there is potentially a profound structural change working through the retail and commercial sector, and we should expect more opportunities for creative use of land in urban areas to emerge. Utilising this land allows us to give priority to the development of brownfield land, and thereby protect our green spaces. And third, our climate aspirations demand that we aim for a spatial pattern of development that reduces the need for unnecessary high-carbon travel."
Yet our Local Planning Authority insist that the way to meet local housing need is to dig up our heritage, our fields, our farms, our hedgerows and our trees. Am I alone in noticing a bit of a disconnect here?
With this in mind I wrote recently to https://thamesvalleyforum.org/ regarding some of the SOLVE Hall Farm ideas for NOT building houses at Hall Farm, see the Platinum Park Blog post. Sadly, their reply was “I don't think it's the type of item that we usually get involved with - for example we normally take topics or regional wide issues and discuss them in detail.”
Well forgive me for asking but their strapline states; “We champion a vision of a ‘Green, Inclusive and Vibrant’ Thames Valley for the benefit of the region and the whole UK”. Did I miss something here?
Allow me to digress further a moment please, to take a look at the “Wood Wide Web”. Yes, you read that correctly, WOOD wide web, NOT World Wide Web. I have come across this expression several times of late, most recently in a book by Merlin Sheldrake entitled “Entangled Life” https://www.waterstones.com/book/entangled-life/merlin-sheldrake/9781784708276
Mycelium, Sheldrake says, is the tissue that holds together much of the world. The filaments thread through the soil, and through living and decomposing bodies, plant or animal. Each exploring tip is looking for water and nutrients, which it will begin to absorb, sending chemical signals to other parts of the network.
A wonderful description of how mycelium fits into the bigger scheme of things can be found here: https://thegreentemple.net/articles/mycelium-the-future-is-fungi#:~:text=Mycelium%20is%20the%20vegetative%20part,fine%20white%20filaments%20(hyphae)%20. If you have a moment, well worth a look 😉
A great deal of modern ecological thought now asks us to take more note of the relationships of interdependency that embed and sustain us, Sheldrake uses the term “involution”, coined recently to shift emphasis from the evolution of separate life-forms to the emergence of these symbiotic systems.
However! In the UK government’s Tree Action Plan – arguably the most important document relating to the country’s new reforestation agenda – there is no mention of fungi at all! See https://theconversation.com/fungi-the-missing-link-in-tree-planting-schemes-175008
Mycorrhizal networks have the capability to transform our understanding of agriculture, yet they are largely ignored and profoundly misunderstood.
“Fungi belong to an entirely separate kingdom of life from plants and animals and are found in every habitat on Earth. Beneficial mycorrhizal fungi form close relationships with trees, growing around or within their roots. These fungi harvest nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil and deliver them to the tree in exchange for carbon-rich sugars generated via photosynthesis”.
Something along the lines of “Not seeing the wood for the trees” springs to mind.
Which brings me to something I listened to this morning on the BBC Radio 4 show, “On Your Farm”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0014fwn Tim May at Kingsclere Estates https://www.kingsclere-estates.co.uk/our-story/ has taken a highly holistic approach to farming productivity that works all the way through from the micro-organisms in the soil to the humans who work the farm to build a truly sustainable “circular economy”. He is an enthusiastic proponent of “Share-farming”. And the interview (linked to above) is well worth a listen to in full.
Tim talks about getting off the “commodity cycle” (flat yields and increasing costs against ever higher demands) and taking people into an “abundance” mindset. It’s not about increasing yield through ever greater use of chemicals or increasing efficiency through ever more mechanisation, but “stacking” where different enterprises stack on top of each other.
Taking the natural abundancy of nature as his starting point he cites "old technologies" such as “Newman Turners 4 year crop rotation from the 1940s” and strip tilling. Sowing heritage wheat alongside strips of grass to improve the soil by improving the carbon uptake. Having a mobile milking parlour so that at no extra cost the fertilizing muck is moved (by the cows themselves) to where it is needed. Having crafts such as leather working alongside the cattle farming. He even mentions Green Burials and Tourism, an unlikely combination but two things we have actively considered for an “Alternative vision for Hall Farm”.
Just a thought but what if all the farms around the edge of Reading were encouraged to become Share-Farms like Kingsclere Estates? What if we stopped spreading ever outward, instead revitalising the urban centre and freeing up the surrounding rural areas for everyone’s enjoyment? What if we used our green fields for health, enterprise, recreation, food production, bio-diversity and not least, reforestation and natural carbon capture?
What if we built the homes we really need in the centre of Reading, next to the transport hubs, where many more truly affordable flats and apartments could be built? What if we solved the real housing crisis and built homes our young people can actually afford to buy?
Is this really such a difficult thing to do?