Some interesting polling – one survey of councillors, another of the public – on attitudes to development.
It was carried out by ComRes on behalf of Development Intelligence, which lobbies for Hammerson and Countryside Properties. There were lots of questions. But pretty much all variations of whether respondents were pro or anti development.
Faced with the bald choices most came out as anti when asked if their areas were "overdeveloped" or "underdeveloped". This was the angle The Guardian picked up on.
However were pro when asked if they favoured more housing or not. Make of that what you will. Is your area overdeveloped? Yes. would you like more housing in your area? Yes. Make of that what you will.
Nick Keable, its chief executive, sounds pretty exasperated. Quoted in The Guardian he said:
"We support the government's pro-development policy, but they have no idea how to implement it in a nimby nation. Negativity about development is driven by the haves, not the have-nots. Where there is deprivation and high unemployment people are more positively disposed than they are in the leafy, suburban south-east."
What might have provided more relevant findings for Mr Keable would have been if the survey had asked about design. Ideally showing alternative images. "Would you welcome new development if it looked like this…Or this….."
In my experience most of the supposed "anti development" sentiment is really anti ugly development.
A few people like the modernist brutalist style. Most do not.
Yet it is the soulless concrete blocks and lego bricks, favoured by the tiny minority, that we get offered with dreary predictability. So predictable that some defeatist respondents to the ComRes survey will have assumed that no other choice was realistic. Take it or leave it.
Public opinion on what new buildings was not sought. But there are a few clues. The vast majority thought the impact of a new building on "community character" was important. 23% of the public and 33% of councillors said it was "extremely important."
The preference for more private housing (which 80% of councillors and 78% of the public would "strongly" or "somewhat" support) was strong in both categories. When it came to social housing there was a bit of a divergence. Among councillors 83% were strongly or somewhat in favour. Among the public this fell to 50% – with 40% "somewhat" or "strongly" opposed. New offices are also less popular than new private housing.
Of course there could be lots of reasons. But I suspect an image is conjured up of new offices or new social housing meaning a hideous tower blocks. Those are the buildings regarded as a threat to "community character" rather than traditional buildings using local materials and respecting local design.
This fatalism about development is wrong. New need not mean ugly. Modern need not mean modernist.
We do have beautiful new traditional buildings and we could have far more. If developers listened to Create Streets and the Princes Foundation for Building Community then they would find the opposition would evaporate.
What would Mr Keable like to gaze out at from his back yard? It could well be buildings. But the appearance is relevant.
Why is this point so frequently ignored in the debate?