Tuesday, 24 October 2017

'Village will continue to shrink without more homes for the young'

THE population of Woodcote will keep shrinking and become older unless more houses are built, a parish councillor has warned.

Peter Sudbury said young people and families couldn’t afford to settle in the village because property was too expensive.

The Woodcote neighbourhood plan has identified sites for 76 new homes to be built by 2027 but the parish council is now consulting on an extention to 2033.

Councillor Sudbury said the current target was unlikely to be enough to meet demand, so should be increased and most of the houses should be “affordable” with rents or purchase prices fixed below the market rate.

He said: “The neighbourhood plan is easily dismissed as a technical exercise in minimising new building and protecting the village from unwanted development.

“This is probably because most people like the village the way it is and want things to stay much as they are but keeping things the way they are is harder than it looks. A village is not just a collection of buildings but a community of people who live in them.”

Between 2001 and 2011, Woodocte’s population fell from 2,715 to 2,604 despite 65 new homes being built. It was the only South Oxfordshire village that shrank while others grew by five per cent on average.

In the same period, the number of residents aged under 20 dropped by 198 and those aged 20 to 60 decreased by 184 while the number of over-65s went up by 245.

Cllr Sudbury said: “Woodcote has undergone a much more rapid demographic change than that in the UK as a whole. The first neighbourhood planning group recognised this and focused on smaller houses or flats with as much affordable housing as possible for young families.

“However, 76 extra homes will only provide berths for about 230 people by 2021. That sounds like a lot but even if every one of them is under 60, it won’t make up for the number of under-60s lost in the 10 years to 2011.

“That’s not counting the number we can expect to have lost by 2021. If the number of people per home continues to drop, our population will hardly be larger than in 2001 despite taking 300 more homes, but it may well be much, much older.

“The problem is that Woodcote is a great place to live and nobody wants to move out. People have children who grow up and move out but the houses remain in productive use for many years. Housing is scarce and costly so there isn’t enough room for others of childbearing age to move in.”

Cllr Sudbury, 56, has lived in Whitehouse Road with his wife Helen, 40, since 2007 and the couple now have three children aged between three and seven.

He said: “Helen and I moved here with the intention of staying until at least one of us was dead. I don’t want the village to age with me — I want it to renew itself and keep the same vibrant mix of age groups it has now.

“If that means the fabric has to change and we have to build more houses — and I think it is difficult to avoid that conclusion — then that’s what needs to happen. The people writing the new neighbourhood plan have a really hard job and need input and support from all of us.”

According to a survey conducted by the parish council in March, about half of Woodcote residents believe the village’s housing quota should increase.

South Oxfordshire District Council says in the draft of its latest local plan that the village should expect another 135 new houses by 2033.

Anna Bartlett, who is vice-chairwoman of governors at Woodcote Primary School, said: “We need more housing for this village to be sustainable. The school and health centre need young families to move into the area but this requires people being open to change, which isn’t always easy.”

Janice Ham said: “We don’t just need housing for youngsters — unless 30-year-olds are youngsters. My two sons will be renting privately forever unless changes are made soon so that new houses can be built. They want their own homes.”

Former villager Anne Chives said: “We ended up moving out of Woodcote and are now renting in Goring Heath. There’s just nothing affordable for even decent career earners with a teenager.”

Sharon Parker, who now lives with her family in Cholsey, said: “We have been trying to move to a housing association property in Woodcote for 18 months but only one house has become available and 45 people bid on it.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “I think the Woodcote neighbourhood plan has changed villagers’ attitudes towards housing enormously.

“They have realised that they have the opportunity to shape the future of their village so they look more positively on the idea of ensuring there is enough housing for those who need it.”

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