Homebuyers could end up paying the price of a freeze on planning consent in some of the Midlands' more desirable areas. Marsya Lennox reports.
The man in the street may not even have noticed. After all, a moratorium on new house building is, by its nature, less conspicuous than a development free-for-all.
Across the affected areas, some of the most popular residential hunting grounds of the Midlands, you will still see the bulldozers, the men in hard hats and the jolly hoardings listing the new "luxury" offerings in store for the buying public, but the only homes currently being built in much of Shakespeare Country and accessible north Worcestershire are those that already bagged their consent before the gates were closed.
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Bromsgrove and Redditch districts have entered a new ice age - with a freeze on fresh consents.
There are few exceptions, notably sites earmarked as 100 per cent affordable, in Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, but in the real world, that won't help many as social housing generally feeds off the open market, quotas imposed as a penance for moneymaking builders.
The upshot is that a lot of people are hopping mad that regional number crunchers have succeeded in imposing strict new curbs on the normal process of building homes.
It could be seen as pure heaven for all Nimbys, the well-heeled and the settled who like things as they are, or were, and will never want to buy a modest, new home for themselves, but the West Midlands regional assembly were not really aiming to keep Warwickshire or Worcestershire green, let alone please the middle classes.
They were doing their sums, looking at the projected figures on housing need for the whole region.
Targets had been set by the government, to be divided in a sort of cascade down to counties and individual boroughs.
Local planning authorities looked at the figures - and suddenly realised they were well ahead of target.
For example, in Stratford-upon-Avon district, it was seen that if housebuilding continued at the current rate, the surplus of supply over requirement would have been 676 dwellings locally.
In Redditch, there were just 70 consents left to give, with nearly five years to go before the target date of 2011.
So what would that matter in a country with an estimated 40,000 national shortfall in completed new homes, in one year alone?
The explanation is that it would mean Stratford, for one, would "exacerbate over-provision".
Reasonable practical reasons for putting up the shutters have included "infrastructure issues", concerns over weight of traffic and limited school places, for instance, but the main reason is compliance with the regional edict that there are less privileged, urban neighbours, including Coventry, Birmingham, the Black Country and even Solihull, which deserve regeneration.
The thinking must be that too much house building in nice places sucks the force for improvement out of the "deserving" ones that are not so nice.
"If we exceeded the target, we would be effectively undermining the regeneration in the rest of the region," says Colin Staves, policy, heritage and design manager for Stratford-upon-Avon District Council.
"The strategy for the region as a whole is very much about focusing on the major urban areas."
Neither local demand, nor market forces comes into it. Stratford and Warwick top the Midland league of desirable places to live, as do the pleasant surrounding villages.
A pall of gloom hangs over a whole industry, the smaller independents with local roots, hardest hit by the restrictions.
Ken Linfoot, of district-based Linfoot Homes, recently hit out at the local moratorium as he sold the company's last remaining property in the Stratford area, with another four years to wait for his next batch.
His argument has been that small, well-designed schemes ease local housing need and ensure continuing variety for the average range of house buyers.
"One sector which is missing out is young families who want reasonably-sized houses with decent gardens," he said recently.
We as a district are simply not offering the range of housing to suit the needs of the whole community."
Many local developments that had been taking place recently were characterised by high densities - and unimaginative design, he complained.
Simon Cash, land director with the upmarket housebuilder Henley-in-Arden based Chase Homes, is controlled enough to be diplomatic about the current situation.
"We can understand why, because the local authorities are trying to impose some sort of control, but we are told that we are not building enough homes - and house prices are rocketing.," he says.
"Accidentally, all they are doing is making things worse."
Housebuilders, where they could, were simply looking in other areas.
"We are putting the moratorium areas to one side and looking elsewhere. We will come back when we can," says Simon.
Richard Abbey, auctioneer and estate agent with John Earle & Son in Henley-in-Arden, confirms the general unease.
"It is causing a lot of frustration, heartache and grinding of teeth. With no new permissions, prices go up and certain people are priced out of the market. This upward pressure on prices is one of the problems they have not addressed property."
In recent years, high density housing in Stratford, for example, had been "poked in with a stick", but small-scale, edge-of-village sites are also out of the running in this one-size-fits-all ruling.
"All villages have expanded over the years, just a few houses at a time, growing organically, usually in vernacular style, maybe brick or thatch - a natural expansion of community in line with demand," he adds.
While local planners and councillors glow with their new altruism, presuming that their restraint may be aiding less fortunate areas, thought should also be spared for local communities.
Even in green and pleasant Warwickshire or Worcestershire, continued natural expansion keeps things ticking over. If housing mix does not keep up with local demand, there are fewer people to support the local services.
Peter Vaughan, of John Shepherd Vaughan & Co, based in Warwick, says: "Anyone with a little intelligence knows that it's absolutely crazy. It's the law of supply and demand. If there's not enough product, prices are driven up."
He questions the criteria on which ceiling figures were based and dismisses the imposition of moratoria as a "nonsensical approach to planning".
A number of villages in the area would welcome small schemes, for instance Snitterfield, Wellesbourne, Barford, Newbold-on-Stour.
If a site is not already in the local plan, even if it is only up the road from one that is, the answer is no.
"All the housebuilders feel the same - ask any of them," adds Peter. "Market forces should apply and the local authority should look at each application on its merit.
"We want activity and numbers of sales - we don't want price inflation."
In Redditch it has been warned that the recent local moratorium will be bad news for many people, particularly key workers, young locals and older people.
"It's a natural consequence of a moratorium that vulnerable people suffer a double whammy - rising house prices and fewer affordable dwellings," says chartered surveyor Graham Parker, of CSJ Brooke-Smith.
Christian Sanders, of the John Sanders agency in nearby Bromsgrove, adds: "It is a crazy old system. I don't think anyone would mind if Bromsgrove simply limited sites to, say, ten houses or fewer."
He also believes a thought should be spared for the people who are sitting on windfall plots, unable to realise their assets, saved for their pensions.
A surprising casualty of the Stratford moratorium gave up the fight only last month. The new homes department of the Stratford-upon-Avon branch of leading agency Knight Frank was shut.
This stand-alone specialist office had no choice as supplies of new homes started to dry up, with no immediate prospect of more.
Mark Evans, partner with Knight Frank's residential development department in Birmingham, adds: "It is very frustrating for everyone. These are areas people want to live and the accommodation is not being provided.
"It is driving up the values on the other houses in these areas and it impacts on local people - anyone who wants to buy a house."
There is a glimmer of hope, however. One big-name developer, Charles Church, is mounting a High Court challenge, questioning the legality of the Stratford-upon-Avon district moratorium. The clock is now ticking.
"Everyone will be watching with great interest," adds Mark.