By Tony Abel, managing director of Abel Homes, based in Norfolk
The pages of this newspaper are often full of stories focusing on local debates about how we can satisfy the need for new homes in our county without losing its essential character. Generally, in one corner sits the ‘don’t build any more houses’ faction, no doubt snug in their own home but conveniently ignoring what it is like not to be able to find somewhere to live. In the other corner sits the ‘new homes at any cost’ faction, who generally show little understanding of or sympathy for what makes Norfolk such a great place to live. Surely there is a middle ground? It is unarguable that we need more homes to house the very many families who either have nowhere to live, or whose present accommodation is simply inadequate. Like it or not, our population is increasing, and we are living in smaller households. Couple that with a significant deficit in house building over the past decades, and the need is clear to see.So what we have to do is find a way of fulfilling that need without ruining the character of our area. That means building homes in clusters of human scale, designed in a way which fits the existing environment, and which contributes to the quality of life in our cities, towns and villages. So we must avoid the ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions. You know what I mean: dust off Plan 47a from the last development in Wakefield or Whitstable, and plonk it down in Watton. Instead, we should be insisting that plans for new housing take into account local needs and local sensitivities. That means avoiding being seduced by shiny plans for faceless estates which will radically alter the character of any given town or village. These tend to be the type of developments which lend themselves to problems of crime and anti-social behaviour in the future. If we can keep things on a human scale, then we show respect to people who will live there. The other thing to think about is that we should be aiming to create communities, not just houses. Homes are for people, and people need community facilities. Simple things like corner shops and public open spaces designed into new clusters of housing can make all the difference to the quality of life of those who will live there, and encourage what politicians like to call ‘community cohesion’. All it takes is some local empathy and some human-scale thinking.