Northstowe development decision against minimum room size

small_home07:08 Tuesday 14th April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: There are fears that Northstowe’s standing as an exemplar new development is at risk. Efforts to set a minimum standard size of rooms in houses built in Phase I of the development have been turned down by a Government planning inspector. The developers Gallaghers appealed against South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning conditions for up to 1500 of the first homes to be built. Alex Riley is the Conservative district councillor for Longstanton and is on the Northstowe Joint Development Control Committee. Morning Alex.
ALEX RILEY: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So why did you want to have this standard in place?
ALEX RILEY: Well in the UK we now have the situation that we have the smallest room sizes in the whole of Europe, and the terrifying thing is that our room sizes keep getting smaller. And people keep finding that they’ve bought houses that aren’t really fit for purpose. And those of us on the Committee really bought into the idea that we wanted Northstowe to be something special, exemplar is the word that gets bandied about. And we thought well the least we can do is ensure that the rooms are of a decent size.

DOTTY MCLEOD: So what would this have laid out?
ALEX RILEY: I don’t actually have the figures in front of me, but I think it’s something like a minimum of about 15% more than what their hoping to get away with.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. And what are your fears now that the inspector has come in and overruled you?
ALEX RILEY: Well we could end up with basically just rows and rows of shoe box homes. And it would just .. it would be the wrong start for what’s meant to be a rather special town.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I suppose some people might say, you know, if the houses are smaller, if the rooms are smaller, maybe they’ll be cheaper, and that could work for some people, for some people trying to get on the property ladder.
ALEX RILEY: They will be cheaper to build, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be cheaper to buy.
ALEX RILEY: And also the marginal saving is tiny. But people end up with bedrooms that are not fit to be used as bedrooms, so they keep needing to have larger homes in terms of numbers of bedrooms than you would have thought. And the irony is that because affordable homes actually have space standards laid down, you could end up with a situation where the only properly sized homes in Northstowe are affordable homes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: People aren’t going to buy houses though, people aren’t going to buy houses with bedrooms that are too small to fit a bed in, are they?
ALEX RILEY: Well part of the trick is that you con people that they’re larger by putting sub-sized furniture in to the show homes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And this actually happens?
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. I mean the developers would say, you know, people aren’t stupid. people are probably even wise to little tricks like that. You know, it was news to me, but it won’t be news to everybody. People won ‘t buy houses if they think they’re too small.
ALEX RILEY: Well as you say, it’s not news to everybody, but enough people do find out the hard way for it still to work.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So how do you feel about the inspector’s decision on this?
ALEX RILEY: Massively disappointed.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And this is a Government planning inspector?
ALEX RILEY: Oh yes. Yes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What do you think this says about that word that we hear a lot when it comes to planning, localism?
ALEX RILEY: Oh yes. It’s another kick in the teeth, but we get used to those.
DOTTY MCLEOD: How do you mean?
ALEX RILEY: Well I’m afraid that all this business about local people being in charge of planning is putting a fine gloss on it, because in so many ways you find that you are completely restricted in what you can achieve.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Is there anything that you can do following this decision? Can you re-appeal?
DOTTY MCLEOD: So this is the end of the road for this little aspect of the plans?
DOTTY MCLEOD: Of course this will only apply to the first 1500 homes? Is that right?
ALEX RILEY: Yes but they’ve got Phase II for 3,500, the outline application for that going through at the moment. And, .. I don’t know, .. developers tend to go for whatever is the lowest quality they can get away with.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You sound so dispirited about this whole thing Alex.
ALEX RILEY: Yes it’s a blow.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Northstowe when it was first mooted years ago now, it was seen as this potential new gold standard development that people would be flocking to, that would be laying down the rules of how developments would be built in future. Do you feel that anything like that is going to be achieved?
ALEX RILEY: Well certainly there’s a good chance that it carries on just going down and down in quality terms.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So not much hope on the horizon where you’re standing from.
ALEX RILEY: Well we live in hope. But this is a setback.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Alex, good to talk to you this morning. Thank you for your time. Alex Riley there, who is the Conservative district councillor for Longstanton, also on the Northstowe Joint Development Control Committee. We did contact the developers Gallaghers, and they haven’t been able to put up anybody to speak to us this morning.