The Conservatives appear to have grasped the importance of increasing the housing supply. The difficulty is that they don’t yet seem to understood the two crucial ways to achieve this. Firstly to make a serious effort to tackle the massive state land banking. Secondly to overcome the entrenched opposition to building by ensuring new homes are attractive – thus converting the Nimbys into Bimbys – Beauty In My Back Yard.
Forcing through hideous schemes might seem like a “tough” approach to get new homes delivered. But the overall impact will be to entrench the view that new must mean ugly. Ultimately that is the perception which must be changed – and it can only be changed if it can be proven to be wrong.
So a decision made by South Hams District Council in Devon last week was deeply depressing. The Times reports(£):
“One of the Prince of Wales’s charities which is behind a new garden town has accused a local council of “betraying its own people” after it sided with building companies in a row over good design.
“The Sherford valley in south Devon was a greenfield site given planning permission for 5,500 new homes and was designed by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to prove that Poundbury, the Duchy of Cornwall’s model village in Dorset, could work on a larger scale.”
Ben Bolgar, a senior director of the Prince’s Foundation, complains that the consortium of Bovis Homes, Linden Homes, and Taylor Wimpey “had used a loophole in the planning law to sidestep a thorough public consultation”. They had threatened to go slow unless they could build cheaper versions.
“We are in a crisis because housebuilders have got a monopoly. They can turn the tap on and off, and ride roughshod over planning permission.”
Nicholas Boys Smith of Create Streets agrees. He says of the changes:
“It is not the right thing to do for the community who gave their consent for this new town after an extensive co-design and community engagement process. Undermining this hard-won trust could be extremely damaging both for this development and future ones.”
Sherford represented “a potential national, even international, case study of good design and a brilliant liveable, humane way to solve our housing needs for the long term and with popular consent.” That has now been “undermined.”
The building firms are celebrating getting away with some cost cutting. The Council bureaucrats will be relieved that the immediate housing targets will be easier to hit. But anyone who thinks that betraying residents in this way is the way to get more homes built is profoundly mistaken.
The way to have more homes built (and thus for builders to make more profits and for bureaucrats to hit their targets) is for them to build the kind of homes that enhance rather than threaten existing communities. This might seem obvious. But many politicians, planners, and developers are still grappling with the concept. Disastrous decisions such as that made in South Hams last week will make the housing shortage worse and the threat of a Corbyn Government greater.