THE BLOG
12/11/2013 08:07 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:56 GMT

We Must Seek Local Answers to the Housing Crisis

'Housing crisis' - it's a phrase that has been bandied around rather a lot in recent weeks, and one that we would be foolish to ignore... If we are to find a way out of the conundrum, it is crucial that their concerns don't fall on deaf ears.

'Housing crisis' - it's a phrase that has been bandied around rather a lot in recent weeks, and one that we would be foolish to ignore.

Regardless of your age, gender, job, hometown or marital status, the rapidly-changing UK housing market will have consequences for all of us. With house prices rising at an unprecedented rate, ordinary people up and down the country are faced by the prospect of being priced out of their own communities.

If we are to find a way out of the conundrum, it is crucial that their concerns don't fall on deaf ears.

Guildford borough, where I hold the planning portfolio at the local Council, is known locally as much for its escalating house prices as for its leafy charm. Prices for the average detached house are nearing £700,000, and with the area made up of 89 per cent Green Belt land, space for housing and business growth alike is at a premium.

If current trends continue, the problem will only get worse. Our research suggests that thousands of new homes will be needed in Guildford borough between now and 2031. Meanwhile, local business owners fear that their employees will no longer be able to afford to live in the borough - a clear threat to our area's economic prospects (browse through our supporting research here) .

It is clear that we need to plan decisively for the future, asking some difficult questions in the process. For example, how can we prevent local people - commuters, business people, the young and the old - from fleeing their own areas? And how can we accommodate our small but significant minority communities, including Travellers? At a time of squeezed incomes, increased living costs and demographic change, understanding local needs and viewpoints is more important than ever.

In Guildford borough we're trying to tackle these issues head-on by having a bigger conversation than ever before - undertaking the most extensive consultation in our history. Last month and throughout November, we've been asking local people questions about the kind of future they want to see for their area, with a series of drop-in events, workshops and exhibitions borough-wide. We're asking people their opinions on anything from business development, to what it's like to cycle down Guildford high street, to - of course - housing.

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We're engaging on social media too, and making a concentrated effort to give a voice to those who are often overlooked - including our Traveller community, teenagers and people from ethnic minorities. Guildford borough has a more diverse population than you'd think, with six per cent of our local population coming from an Asian background.

Together as a community, we want to understand our future housing and growth needs, and plan for them in a manageable way. The insights we gather from the conversation will feed into a Local Plan for the area for the next 18 years. Crucially, this is planning with local people, rather than for them.

We've already heard some great insights. Young mother Jo told us how she struggles living in a small flat with two boisterous young boys and a new baby girl: "I'm desperate for more space - but it's hard to find something affordable". Meanwhile, local teenagers Aqsa and Asra said they wanted to see more facilities for young people.

I hope that the experience will connect our Council better with local people, encouraging a greater level of local debate in the long term. Guildford borough can't afford to be pigeonholed as a rich and leafy enclave. We need people to stay and build lives here - everyone from teachers and doctors to students, young adults and entrepreneurs - and we want to ensure that there are enough homes for our children and grandchildren.

The future of our local communities is too important to be decided by local authorities or Westminster officials alone. With difficult times ahead in housing and elsewhere, we should be prepared more and more to take debates to local people, taking truly collective decisions that will allow us to grow and provide for ourselves, now and in the future.

Monika Juneja is Guildford Borough Councillor for Burpham, and lead Councillor for Planning and Governance. Follow her @monika_juneja. For updates on Guildford Borough's Local Plan consultation, visit http://guildfordlocalplan.info or follow @GuildfordBC.