New homes for Nailsea
the green field debate
Before you read this, in order to get some context behind my initial response, I suggest that you read Sarah Davies’ open letter to Nailsea Town Council which is published below or can be read on her blog by clicking HERE.
A modest 150 or so people have signed a petition set up by Sarah Davies supporting her motion: Sell Engine Lane to Barratt Homes.
Given that Sarah and her husband, Ryan, live in Eastway it is perfectly understandable they wouldn’t be affected by the development in the slightest but for those, like myself, who live within a stone’s throw of Engine Lane, there is a strong case for the good of everyone in Nailsea why this development should not take place.
I’m going to address some of the points Sarah made.
Young people leaving Nailsea
Sarah assumes that the primary reason behind the departure of people who have grown up in Nailsea is because they 'cannot afford to buy a home'. I believe that this is far from the truth. The main reason why young people leave Nailsea is not housing, but because they accept it is a dormitory town in which there is no real need to stay. Someone, please tell me what is actually in Nailsea for young people with degrees. Someone, please tell me what exciting and fulfilling employment opportunities exist in this town for someone fresh out of university? The simple fact is that there are very few good quality employment opportunities in Nailsea and that will not change. In that context, most more mature, professional people who live in Nailsea invariably work in the major cities or conurbations close by; some even in London, others likely to be home workers.
Nailsea has too few houses
The idea of building more houses is a solution to a simple economics situation: too much demand too little supply. It has been commented that 'our population is ageing'. This is true and is exactly why there shouldn’t be a housing issue for people wanting to live in Nailsea in the first place.
- Houses are bought by people
- Said people get older
- Inevitably, these people’s homes will eventually be sold on for a variety of reasons including:
They move into a retirement home (of which Nailsea has a growing number)
The end result, either way, is an availability of housing stock for younger people to purchase. Given that estate agents have plenty of houses in Nailsea for sale and a quick look on online house finders shows a fair amount of housing stock, it is clear that there isn’t a massive queue of people wanting to move to Nailsea. For the reasons described, the natural cycle of life helps meet the demand for housing so there is little need to build houses on such a grand scale that has been proposed. There are many houses for sale right now in Nailsea for what is deemed an affordable price and they’re nearly always on the market because they belonged to someone who has moved on purely on the basis of how life works.
Turning to Sarah’s views on schools, her argument clearly suggests that the schools won't be able to cope. To go further, students won’t be able to cope because if you increase the number of pupils to one teacher ratio, less time is focussed on each individual student thus damaging their quality of education. Sarah pointed out in her open letter that the school system in Nailsea has 23 places left per year for primary school intakes and suggests that this would be sufficient in the case of more pupils going to primary school as a result of this development. Let’s look at a hypothetical, yet very realistic, situation in which we assumethere is one family per house and each family consists of a mother, a father and two children. Point being: the design of these houses is attractive for the average kind of family. Under this hypothetical situation, there would be 800 new people in the town, 400 of which are children. That would most likely fill up 23 primary school intake spaces quite well.
Sarah makes the point about private education being (in my words) a relief clause for why the schooling system could cope with more pupils but the thing is, these houses would be sold under a help to buy scheme. People who can afford to send their children to private school do not usually buy their houses through help to buy. The vast majority of people who move into these proposed houses will be using the state schools because that’s all they could afford so no: we should ignore the idea private schools will help relieve the added strain on the state sector offering because it’s simply an unrealistic expectation.
The local health system
I use the NHS in a few months more than many people will use in a year - maybe even their entire life - so I understand how close to capacity our GP surgeries are. At some GP surgeries, it can take months to have an issue addressed (if you’re lucky) and the last thing our local health system needs is more people because this is another supply and demand issue. This issue, however, is one that cannot be met with relying on more doctors coming into the town. Look at the news: almost weekly we see how doctors hate the deal they’ve got now and how they’re going off to Australia or New Zealand because they can get paid better over there… What happens if our GPs get the same idea? What will happen is not enough supply of healthcare professionals to meet the demand of sick people. This will undoubtedly be made worse when an additional 195 families could be needing to use the local health services.
Now onto my own open letter to the Nailsea Council
I am a strong believer in protecting the environment and conserving green space. I, like many others, spent a good deal of my formative years walking in these fields and the green spaces became symbolic to me of where I grew up - a home town within a stone’s throw of the countryside. Now it is reaching the point where that symbol is about to be smashed by a local authority that, in my opinion, is likely to support the planning application for Engine Lane so that it can reap the benefits of additional money raised in council tax and perhaps business rates.
Not only would the building of nearly 200 houses on fields that hold sentimental value be personally upsetting but it could bring the addition of up to 200 new families to the area and the burning question in my mind is “can Nailsea sustain around 800 extra people”? This is based on the idea that each family consists of four people so obviously, that number could be much higher or indeed lower.
If we look at the current situation of the three key services to the average family - GP surgeries, School places and Jobs - Nailsea as a town can’t realistically provide much. Think about it, it can take weeks for a normal person to get a GP’s appointment in whichever surgery you go to and this is down to there being too much demand to see a GP, not enough GPs to see patients. Logically, an increase in the population would mean that the demand put on surgeries will go up. This means that the service for the patients is in jeopardy and is a reason why having an extra 800 people in the town would be a bad idea unless something is done beforehand that allows the local NHS services to cope with such an influx.
With school places, I can understand how the argument that the primary schools are mostly undersubscribed would make the case for saying that schools can cope with a higher intake but honestly, I’m not too sure whether that justifies a dramatic increase in pupil numbers. One reason for this is that it is always good to have a bit of a 'buffer zone' and what I mean by that is have a comfortable number of pupils at your school but you are able to increase that number slightly if it’s absolutely necessary. Just because there may be 23 spaces in schools for reception intake (source: Sarah Davies) doesn’t mean you have a green light to fill all 23 of those spaces as that would mean the schools are working at max capacity which obviously isn’t good. Secondly, more pupils mean that teachers can’t focus on individuals as much than if there were fewer pupils. Having a low pupil:teacher ratio is vital to a child’s education as it allows a pupil to get the most amount of attention possible which is good because it leads to better exam results and a better functioning relationship between each pupil to their teacher. A higher demand for school places puts young children’s primary education and indeed secondary education at risk which is something I cannot and you should not stand for.
Finally, jobs. Nailsea is a town that mostly consists of charity shops and a few small businesses. It’s not a thriving area that gives way to hundreds of jobs and most people who live in Nailsea work outside of the town in places such as Weston-super-Mare, Bristol, Bath and sometimes London. The point being that there is little opportunity in Nailsea for the vast majority of people and it would be foolish to think that people are attracted to Nailsea for work because let’s face it: they’re not. Nailsea is a dormitory town and a small town for, on the whole, retirees and commuters
Given the three point’s I have covered (and there is much more that could be explored), it’s pretty clear that there is no immediate need or indeed any need in the foreseeable future for such a large development. I understand that the residents of inner Nailsea such as those in Eastway won’t see the physical damage done to the surroundings which allows them to block that argument out of mind but believe me, we will all feel the effects on our infrastructure when roughly 200 new families move into the town.
Please, keep the fields - ignore those who suggest it would be some great happening to have a huge influx of people coming to this quiet town and ensure that Nailsea doesn’t become a rural slum.
Our future depends on it.
Another petition posted online by Canadian born Chris Perry who is operations manager at Nailsea School calling of the land not to be sold has 19 supporters. This petition calls on the county council of North Somerset and NTC to investigate alternatives including working with a housing developer to build a new primary school on the Gaulacre site in exchange for the developer being given the current land occupied by Grove Junior and Hannah Moore Infant schools for housing development. This would be in-fill as the schools are already surrounded on three sides by housing whereas the proposed development is quite the opposite and opens up possible future housing development of the rugby fields. The road infrastructure in this area is already established and as the development would be closer to both the town centre and Nailsea & Backwell rail station it would hopefully mean less traffic as it would be within walking distance of both and is also on an existing bus route.
Sarah published her pleas on her blog HERE with an accompanying petition asking people to support her stance.
So far she has had more than 1,000 views and nearly 200 names added to the petition.
The story of how the land in town council ownership came to be offered to Barratt Homes is including in the August front page story which can be read HERE.
There are various other reports on the Breaking News page incuding meetings of Nailsea Action Group which is opposed to any sale.
We reproduce Sarah's letter to the town council here.
This is a blog post I’ve ummed and ahhed about for some time. I’ve sat on my hands for as long as I can bear and the time has come to share it.
I try not to post too much about local news on my blog, only so I can ensure that I am not boring the pants off those who read my blog from further afield.
However, I suspect that the issue facing our town at the moment is one that is replicated up and down the country.
It’s a common theme:
Area needs new houses
Group of local people appear in paper with sad faces vowing to 'fight it'
There are some areas where I more than sympathise with the issue and believe that the residents are well within their rights to complain.
For example with Backwell- where the schools are currently at capacity, the fact that they are essentially a village rather than a town, and have already earmarked an area for development and backed this up with their Neighbourhood Plan. Similarly with Yatton, an area without their own secondary school, which has been more than generous with it’s housing development over the last few years.
This is where Nailsea comes in and where I just want to scream.
Fact is, we are losing many of our young families, those who have grown up here, because they cannot afford to buy a home. Nailsea is now at a point where we have tremendous disparity in our age balance- our population is ageing and we have to ensure that we are ensuring the survival of our town.
Not that those opposed to the Engine Lane development want to hear about that. They want to do everything in their power to ensure that it doesn’t happen. I have read the arguments surrounding it and the only one I have any degree of understanding towards is ensuring the safety of the roads. The others, well, just no. Here’s why-
The houses are too expensive for first time buyers
Short of picking up this housing development and putting it somewhere cheaper, we cannot get around the fact that housing in Nailsea is more costly than elsewhere. However, as always, what is overlooked is the great opportunities that new developments open up. Namely the Help to Buy scheme and the government Equity Loan. A purchase price of £220,000, with full access to the incentives available, means that the property could be purchased with as little as a 5% deposit-
Here is an example with a property with a £200,000 purchase price.
Help to Buy Buyer mortgage at 75%- £150,000
Help to Buy deposit at 5%- £10,000
Total contribution from Help to Buy incentive- £160,000
Equity Loan at 20%- £40,000
So there you have it- for as little as a 5% deposit the next generation CAN purchase a property here .I think we all know someone who pays more in rent than we do on our mortgages. It’s often not the affordability that’s the issue, it’s the huge deposit that’s required to buy a house in the first place.
We don’t have enough jobs to support this development
I’m sorry you’ve lost me here.
The schools won’t cope
Not so. This development is 195 houses- firstly, we shouldn’t assume that this won’t be attractive to families currently living in Nailsea who are renting, whose children are currently in school here already.
This year, we had 23 spaces available in our schools for Reception intake-
Golden Valley filled 53 of their 60
Hannah More filled 49 of their 60
St Francis filled all 30 of their spaces
Kingshill filled just 15 of their 30 spaces available (despite the fact the school has recently converted to academy status and is doing very well)
Secondary education is even less of a concern, with Nailsea Comprehensive School filling only 124 of their 210 spaces available, leaving a staggering 86 spaces available for this year’s Year 7 intake. The school has even been granted funding for a mini bus so they can look into the opportunity of busing children in from neighbouring towns.
Am I the only person who thinks that’s really sad?
We shouldn’t overlook either, the fact that there are a number of children in Nailsea who are educated privately. We have two outstanding independent schools in the area, namely Fairfield PNEU in Backwell and The Downs School in Wraxall. Not all families who move into the area will use state education.
We have a long wait to get a doctors appointment
That isn’t new. With our practises in Nailsea merging with others in September to become the Tyntesfield Medical Group we would be well placed to absorb this development. As a patient of Tower House they are a brilliant practice and while you might wait a while to see your own GP for a routine matter, they will ALWAYS fit you in if you have an emergency that needs to be seen that day.
Here’s the wake up call….
North Somerset’s Core Strategy has set a target for 865 homes to be built in Nailsea in the next decade. We NEED more homes. Do we need 865? Only time will tell. What we do need, for the time being however, is 195 new homes.
I understand the residents of Engine Lane like the fields they look out onto from their windows. I get that.
But please, sell this field- ignore the naysayers and ensure that we keep Nailsea alive.
Our future depends on it.