Nick Boles, the former planning minister, was a fan of bungalows. When he called for more to be built last year, especially for older people, he drew praise from the Telegraph and the Guardian (the latter characteristically reminded us that ‘Under Milk Wood’ was written in a bungalow). The government’s streamlined planning guidance, issued on Boles’ watch, specifically told councils to build more bungalows. He warned that councils would need to open up more land for development if they did so, but that there would be less opposition to them ‘because of their popularity’.
When Boles was given a different job in the July reshuffle, bungalow enthusiasts feared the worst. Fortunately, his replacement, Brandon Lewis, proved equally keen: within a month he’d repeated Boles’ call for more ‘quintessentially British’ bungalows, calling on us to love them ‘a little bit more’. At the same time, he made clear that they needn’t necessarily be built on greenfield sites: ‘there are lots of areas that are not built on that are not beautiful green fields or are not necessarily classified as brownfield’. He even pointed out how wonderful the bungalows are in his own constituency, Great Yarmouth.
So when Saffron Housing Trust made a planning application to build ten bungalows on old railway land in Great Yarmouth, they must have thought they were onto a good thing. With various provisos, there were no official objections to the scheme and the planning department recommended it should go ahead. The two Labour ward councillors backed the scheme, in part because it would resolve fly-tipping and other problems on the vacant site.
The officers’ assessment showed that over 500 people were waiting for housing in the area, most wanting one- or two-bed properties and nearly two-thirds needing single floor accommodation. Clearly the bungalows would be oversubscribed. The households on the waiting list might well have agreed with their MP when he said you need ‘somewhere you can move to which is ideal for you without having to go into what you might see as a retirement home’.
However, the NIMBYs struck. Adjoining residents had got used to having the land as a free car park: 53 objected and a petition against the project raised 47 signatures. Councillors set aside their own assessment of housing needs and voted to reject the scheme at their meeting in May.
At this point a judicious intervention by the local MP and planning minister might have sorted things out, even though he’d stressed that it was ‘not up to him where new homes were built – that was a choice for local councils’. However, it turns out that in his own patch he is opposed to the council ‘forcing yet more housing on the community’. In his recent newsletter, he says the 10 bungalows would have caused ‘traffic chaos’ and that ‘out-of-touch’ Labour councillors were ‘defying the will of local people’ (setting aside, presumably, the hundreds of households who would gladly have applied for the homes if they’d been built).
Colin Wiles, discussing Lewis’s original enthusiasm for bungalows, noted in Inside Housing that George Orwell spoke about ‘the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them’. Colin was referring to the minister being at the same time in favour of low-density, single-storey developments, and worrying about the need to use more agricultural land for housing. As it happens, this small development in Great Yarmouth would have met both tests. It turns out, however, that Brandon Lewis’s ‘contradictory beliefs’ are far less complicated than Colin thought. Bungalows are to be universally welcomed, except in Great Yarmouth.
Acknowledgement: research for this piece was prompted by a news item in 24.dash.com