The Housing Minister Brandon Lewis this morning celebrates the decline and fall of Nimbysm.
Paradoxically this has been achieved through localism rather than command and control from Whitehall. Local communities and their municipal representatives have more power to resist development. However they also have more incentive to allow it – through the payment of a New Homes Bonus into town hall coffers. Furthermore there has been a shift from a “take of leave it” approach to more flexibility over where the new housing should go and what form it should take.
Mr Lewis heralds this breakthrough in an article for the Daily Telegraph.That is a symbolic choice as that paper fought a vigorous campaign against liberalisation of the planning system.
Looking at the results of those reforms, Mr Lewis claims not only that they are increasing the supply of housing but this is something that is being welcomed by the existing inhabitants of the communities being expanded:
“Despite challenging economic conditions, 445,000 homes have been built since July 2010, housebuilding is at its highest level since 2007, and mortgage approvals are on the rise, with mortgage borrowing in June 24% higher than the same month last year.
The construction sector has also been growing for 14 consecutive months, and companies are taking on new workers at the fastest rate for 17 years.
Housebuilding is moving in the right direction, underpinned by strong economic growth and low interest rates.”
He then added:
“That’s why I was delighted to read the British Social Attitudes Survey on housebuilding, which I am publishing today. It shows that since the introduction of our planning reforms support for new homes has risen dramatically, from 28 per cent in 2010 to 47 per cent in 2013, while opposition to new homes over the same period has fallen from 46 per cent in 2010 to 31 per cent in 2013.
This changing mind-set can now be seen in the pipeline of projects coming through the reformed planning system. Last year successful applications for major housing schemes were up 23 per cent, and planning permissions were granted for 216,000 new homes.
The new planning system puts local people in control, so if they want to build more homes, they will.”
The change in attitude towards new housing could have a number of factors. One may be the increase in house prices meaning that fewer people can afford to buy. Even those who have bought reflect on whether their children will be able to.
The high profile agitation by such think tanks as Policy Exchange and CentreForum for a positive approach to development has seeped through into the media and thus helped changed the public mood. At Conservative Home we have done our bit with the Homes, Jobs and Savings for All campaign.
However surely there will be a difference in popular sentiment towards new ugly housing and new beautiful housing. That is why offering locals a choice of design could achieve not merely acquiescence but enthusiasm for new buildings.
It is also understandable that account will be taken of what replaces them. Often we have seeing entire streets of derelict housing brought back to life. Of course those living in the surrounding area will be delighted.
In London many of the worst council estates are being redeveloped. They are being opened up to surrounding streets and providing a mix of tenure rather than being segregated areas for the poor. The Guardian splashes this morning on a story about affordable housing requirements prompting some of new buildings to have different entrances – “poor doors”. That is objectionable. But how much greater is the segregation of the large soulless council estates.
There is still a long way to go. Often planning proposals still encounter (fully justified opposition). In London we have too many old tower blocks being replaced by new tower blocks. The “Green Belt” – much of scuzzy – remains sacrosanct thus thwarting the new homes that our needed.
Some developers warned that localism would mean building would come to a halt. By contrast the Daily Telegraph and the Campaign to Protect Rural England said that cutting the red tape would mean more development being forced on people. On balance the scaremongering about the planning reforms from these various sources has been disproved.