A house is not just a home

Brand new housesHow much room does a new house take up? If you’re fortunate, the actual space is around 2,000 square feet. But, in reality, a new home has an impact much greater than its actual dimensions or footprint. Each new property affects the local community, local amenities, energy needs, local roads and council services. And that’s just the beginning. The Government has stated that it wants to build over a million and a half new homes between 2015 and 2022. On the surface this appears to be an ambitious, but commendable, plan. But what are the hidden consequences of this plan going to be?

Home and away

A new home doesn’t exist in isolation. It becomes part of a much broader infrastructure. And the reach of that infrastructure, and planning for it, goes far beyond the area of the new build. To begin with, every home requires utilities: water, electricity and, possibly, gas. The local authority has to ensure those utilities are available, which becomes part of their planning for the local area. Sewer pipes and cables may need to be laid to service the new properties. And, with Wi-Fi fast becoming a basic human need, providers will want to lay their own broadband cable. Telecoms providers may also want to erect their own phone masts to make sure the new residents get a good signal. Some of this has a direct impact on the local authority’s budget. It also affects the existing community, mainly in the form of long-term roadworks and disruption, as trenches are dug for pipes and broadband cables.

New energy

We’re moving towards a greener world, where the shortage of fossil fuels is a much greater consideration. There may be a case for the energy requirements of housing developments - built outside of existing towns - to be provided ‘off-grid’. This could be in form of solar panels, wind-farms or other forms of new energy technologies. Developers would have to consider both the short-term cost and the long-term ramifications of choosing‘old energy’ or ‘green energy’.

Making inroads

Utilities are just one part of the equation. These days, one car per person is becoming normal. Which means that each resident will want somewhere to park their car, either on-site or nearby. And each of those vehicles adds to the volume of traffic in the area. If the new homes are built away from a town centre, new roads will have to constructed to service them. But, if existing residential properties are demolished and replaced by new houses,the strain on the local road network could be even greater. With the developers ‘maximising the available space’ (or in plain English, making smaller homes), ten existing houses could be replaced by twenty new builds, which would increase the overall strain on the local traffic network.

Back to the future

There is also the question of future-proofing the new builds, which involves both transport and utilities. The Government’s other grand plan, besides one and a half million new homes, is to ban diesel and petrol vehicles from 2040. So, if developers are looking towards the future, this means ensuring a provision for electric vehicles. It may make sense for each new home to have a charging point for an electric car, which, of course, means planning for the increased electricity usage as well. Perhaps this is where it makes sense for the local authority to partner with utility companies, or even car manufactures to provide. Developers may not want to consider this yet, but it will save the cost and disruption of retro-fitting charging points further down the line.

Rules for Schools

The other consideration is community infrastructure. New houses will mean, of course, new residents, who will require, at the least, doctors, hospitals and schools. If the local area has a finite resource, where does the provision for new residents come from? It may be a requirement for the developers to include a doctor’s surgery and even a school in their planning proposals. Hospitals are a bigger question. As the NHS is already under a massive strain on resources, it is unlikely they could afford to either expand an existing hospital or build an entirely new hospital. And the needs of a new community aren’t static. For instance, a new Primary School may be a short-term answer. But in a few years, the need for a new Secondary School will become apparent. These are all considerations for the local authorities and their limited budgets.

Who pays?

The big question is, who pays for the new houses? The Government may have big plans for providing housing, but, in reality, they’ve reduced funding to local authorities over the last decade. So, what does a local authority do, when it needs social housing, but can’t afford to provide it? In some cases, they enter into agreements with developers, so that social housing is provided as part of a new development. It may be that, in return, planning permission is granted more quickly or land is made available at more attractive price. Wherever the budget comes from, it will also have to include a provision for the impact any new development has on the local infrastructure. New builds don’t exist in isolation and there always has to be an awareness of how complex and far-reaching their impacts and requirement can be.

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