The question: How to solve Marlborough's housing problems? The answer: affordable housing, affordable housing, affordable housing...The need for more affordable homes was the overriding message from the public meeting (October 25) on the housing survey carried out for the Neighbourhood Plan for the town and four of its surrounding parishes.
This was the second public meeting on the independent collection of 'robust evidence to inform the policies in the Neighbourhood Plan' - tackling the community's two major concerns: housing and parking. Marlborough.news has already reported the meeting on parking.
The meeting heard presentations by Danny Friedman and Ros Grimes of Cobweb Consulting who did the research on housing and on business.
About a thousand people - out of a population of eight thousand - responded to the housing survey. Out of the welter of important figures these responses revealed, the most important concerned the needs for affordable housing.
Of 400 households - some existing and some expecting to start new households -stating they would want to move house within five years, 175 said they would be relying on affordable homes (107) or shared equity homes (68.)
During a lengthy and wide ranging question time, the extent of the problems were revealed.
Lisa Farrell was concerned about young people. She cited an example of overcrowding with six people in a two-bedroom home. The survey found that the social housing sector has twice as many overcrowded homes than in private rented properties - though the percentages a small.
She had found the need strongest among young people: "They're leaving because the can't get anywhere to live."
And there were questions from a one young couple at the meeting which showed just how impossible it has become to get a home in Marlborough if your earnings do not reach the magic figure for buying or renting.
Val Compton asked why so many developments for the over 55s had been allowed - to the profit of the developers. Mervyn Hall said the neighbourhood Plan will be able to designate areas for special types of homes - "We just have to find developers willing to build them."
On a similar theme, another questioner asked why if developers are allowed to restrict ownership to the over 55s, the planners could not restrict them to under 30s. There was a murmur of agreement to that point.
And, of course, there were questions about what 'affordable' really means and why 'social housing' was disappearing. It was said that Aster, the dominant former local housing association, had already sold six homes in the area.
If Redrow Homes hand over - or sell on - the 'affordable/social' houses on the Salisbury Road development to a 'housing association', it will be interesting to see how soon they will sell them off or what time restrictions are placed on them.
It was pointed out that the survey concentrated on the needs of those already living within the Plan's area. A quarter of working respondents commute to Swindon and ten per cent to London.
But there is no estimate of the number of people who have to commute into the area but would rather live here but cannot afford the house prices or rents. There is consideration of the recruitment needs of the College, but none of St John's or the health sector.
There was then a short presentation on the Business Survey. The chair of the Plan's business sub-group, Bill Roe from the College, revealed that the independent retailers thought parking put the greatest restriction on shops - both as regards their staff and footfall.
He also said that the surgery needed a space twice its existing size - taking into account current pressures and the increase in population from known developments: "They are creaking at the seams - it is not good."
There was also a question about the final phase of the Neighbourhood Plan process - who requires it to be decided by referendum? Mervyn Hall replied: "The government - it's in the Localism Act." "Governments haven't learnt much about referendums, have they?"
As the evening was full of figures, it may be worth saying that fewer people attended the housing meeting than the parking meeting - by a ratio of about 6 to 8. But there was a great deal of interest from those who did attend.
The full housing survey can be downloaded from the Neighbourhood Plan website.