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The London Borough Of Bexley

The London Borough of Bexley is one of 33 principal subdivisions of the administrative area of Greater London, indicated on map 1.1 by the red marker. It covers an area of 23 square miles (6,400 hectares) and is situated in the south east of Greater London (London Borough of Bexley, 2013). The borough is bounded by the river Thames to the north, the boroughs of Greenwich to the west, Bromley to the south and County of Kent to the east.

Map 1.1 Map of Greater London showing all 33 London boroughs

(Google Maps, 2015)

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the 2011 Census found that the population of London was 8.17m, meaning London’s population is growing significantly faster than projected (Office for National Statistics, 2015). The most recent Greater London Authority’s (GLA) projections suggest London’s population could grow to over 10 million by 2036, which will have significant implications for the numbers of new homes required (Greater London Authority, 2015).

The London Borough of Bexley is divided into 21 wards with a population of approximately 232,000, a population increase of 6% from 2001 and according to the GLA 2014 round of trend-based population projections, it is projected to rise to 288,484 by 2041 (Greater London Authority, 2015).

On 27 March 2012 the coalition government introduced the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which is a radical shake-up of the planning system in England and Wales. The Local Development Framework (LDF) for Bexley will comprise a folder of planning policy documents to guide development over the next 15 to 20 years along with the current London Plan. Bexley’s Core Strategy was adopted in February 2012, gradually replacing the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) within the LDF (London Borough of Bexley, 2013).

The borough has seen a steady rise in market house prices, seeing the average house price rising from £221,470 in December 2011 to £306,511 in October 2015 (The Land Registry, 2014). That being said Bexley is still one of the lowest house priced boroughs in London.

Bexley is also the smallest of the south east London boroughs in terms of dwelling stock (95,114), and had the lowest rate of addition to the stock over the 2009 to 2013 period (The Land Registry, 2014). This is in part due to constraints outlined in the London Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and Housing Capacity Study. The document states that Bexley has a capacity of 2,846 large sites for development which, with the exception of places like City of London and Richmond, is one of the lowest in capacity (Greater London Authority, 2013). This is also the case for small sites with Bexley only providing 812 sites compared to Southwark’s 8,625. These figures do not account for the full scope of housing growth, as there will always be an element of windfall development. However, they have advised Bexley’s housing delivery target, which the London Plan identifies as 335 new homes per year (Teresa O’Neil, 2012).

The council has approximately 5000 households on the social housing waiting list; however 85.7% of all dwellings in the borough are private housing stock leaving just 14.3% as registered social landlord housing stock (London Borough of Bexley, 2013). There are nearly 13,000 housing association homes in the borough after the council transferred all of its stock to housing associations in 1998 (Greater London Authority, 2015). The borough saw the completion of 98 intermediate tenure properties and 262 social/affordable rent properties during 2011 and 2014 but saw its largest contribution in 1253 market value properties during this period (Office for National Statistics, 2015).

There are roughly 140,000 residents in the borough of working age, unemployment rate is 5.7% lower than London and Great Britain with 1.5% of residents aged 16-64 claiming Job Seekers Allowance and according to Bexley Council’s website, approximately 50,000 residents work outside Bexley, although the borough itself has roughly 68,000 jobs (London Borough of Bexley, 2013). However, roughly a third of these jobs are low paid and 23% of Bexley residents earn below the Minimum Income Standards (MIS) for outer London (Aldridge, et al., 2015).

Bexley is one of the greenest boroughs in London with almost 12% of its land considered to be green, covering 638 hectares and providing a number of benefits to the local community with over 100 parks and open spaces and a 5 mile stretch along the river Thames (Bexley Council, 2008). These spaces are also rich sources of nature conservation and biodiversity; and offer a number of nationally and regionally designated open spaces, including areas of Metropolitan Open Land, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). In addition to open space, river corridors are important in Bexley and include the Rivers Thames, Cray, Shuttle and Wyncham. Map 1.2 shows some of the designations of land in the borough.

Bexley has a number of green spaces which have been awarded the nationally renowned Green Flag Award including; Danson Park, Foots Cray Meadows, East Wickham Open Space, Lesnes Abbey and Hall Place Gardens. Bexley also has four open spaces on the Historic England List of Parks and Gardens with, Danson Park in Bexleyheath, Hall Place in Bexley, Foots Cray Meadows in Foots Cray and The Glade, Lamorbey Park in Sidcup (Historic England, 2015).

Bexley is also in the unique position of having Metropolitan Green Belt within its boundaries in Scadbury Nature Reserve, Footscray Meadows and Dartford Heath. Green belt exists to provide open space and to prevent urban sprawl, the NPPF paragraph 79 states that: ‘the fundamental aim of the Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and permanence’ (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012).

Map 1.2 Showing land designations and usage in the borough

(Bexley Council, 2008)

According to the NPPF, the purpose of the Green belt is to keep unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas in check and prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another; preserving the special character of historic towns (Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012). The Green belt assists in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment; and urban regeneration, by encouraging the reusing of derelict and other urban land.

Green belt policy is not a new concept; in fact the restriction of building around cities can be traced back to Elizabethan times. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I ordered a three mile wide belt around London to stop the plague. However it was possible to receive ‘permission’ for new building and the Green belt around London never truly functioned (Adam Dodgshon, 2014). Ebenezer Howard mentions in his book Garden Cities of Tomorrow, ‘A great city and a cluster of towns, all separated by a rural belt, so that inhabitants have the benefit of both town and country’ (1902). In his vision, he saw Victorian families in a parkland setting encircling the ‘Garden City of Tomorrow’.

Inspired by Howard, The London Society put forward a proposed Development Plan for London in 1919. This called for green spaces in what were then, the outer suburbs (The London Society, 2015). In 1935, the then London County Council (LCC) took the first steps towards implementing this vision with a formal proposal to create London’s Green Belt. The Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act was passed in 1938 and enabled the LCC to start buying land for the proposed encircling parkland (Adam Dodgshon, 2014).

In 1947 a Labour Government made provisions for Green Belt in the Town and Country Planning act, however it was a conservative minister, Duncan Sandys, who finally implemented those provisions in 1955 (London First, 2015). Today there are 14 London boroughs covering most of outer London, 65% of land within London’s boundary is ‘green’, 22% of land within London’s boundary is Green Belt; whereas, 28% is built on; and around 60% of London’s Green Belt is within 2km of an existing rail or tube station (London First, 2015).

The need for housing and development verses the potential loss in green spaces is an issue for both Central and Local Government. However, since 2010, public sector services in local authorities have had to respond to significant reductions in Government grant funding whilst needing to address the pressures of increasing demand for services.

Bexley’s core Government funding has decreased by around one third between the financial periods of 2010/11 and 2014/15. However, confirmation that the current austerity programme will continue, means reductions in Government funding for local authorities over the next five years (Bexley Council, 2015). Figure 1.1 shows total Government grant funding received by Bexley since 2010/11, together with predictions for the future.

Figure 1.2 Bexley’s Government Grant Funding (2010/11 – 2019/20)

(Bexley Council, 2015, p. 3)

This dissertation will explore the correlation between the need for housing within a London borough and the want for green spaces; and residents perception on what is more important to them.

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