Understanding people’s concerns about housing development

A national overview of each demographics likelihood to actively oppose house building

Last week I spoke at an event marking the launch of Shelter’s new Housing Insights for Communities online resource. The aim is to “support local authority officers and house builders in achieving positive community engagement in housing development”.

In her introduction, Kay Boycott from Shelter, said: “We are in the midst of a massive housing crisis where the only solution is to build more homes. While 72% of people agree that we need more homes in this country, 48% would oppose plans to build on their street. Increasing understanding of people’s concerns regarding development in their area is a vital step on the long road to providing decent, affordable housing for everyone.

The need to better understand people concerns – not just in housing, but across local government – is going to be vitally important over the coming few years.  Obviously, with it’s capabilities for  communication the internet can be a hugely useful and positive force in this.

This resource then should provide some interesting insights into different communities across the country. You are able to analyse details on demographic groups – ward-by-ward, and get a snapshot of the likely views on housing. Shelter are very clear in their aims, which are to encourage more house building to meet current and future housing needs. The information on the insights tool shows the likelihood of objection to house building, and gives guidance on the most effective communication channels and messages to reach specific groups.

It is a an impressive use of data to drive policy and campaigning, and Shelter deserve credit for recognising that in the new more localist world, after the abolition of housing targets and the drive towards community planning, they need a new approach. Instead of looking to Whitehall to influence funding and targets for housing, they will need to focus on councils and communities. This can only be a good thing for generating a new kind of debate amongst people about the best approach to housing. At present while most people agree that we need more housing, most people also say they don’t want it in their area. The old ‘top down’ housing targets entrenched this contradiction, rather than resolving it. P

erhaps when local people are much more engaged in thinking about housing need in their area, and feel more in the driving seat, there might be local progress.

    1. leftyorrighty says:

      According to http://www.emptyhomes.com there are about 324,000 long-term privately owned dwellings in the UK. This doesn’t strike me as a massive housing crisis requiring more building.
      It does appear to require some form of incentive for the owners of these properties to make them available to rent/buy.

      Shelter (england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/housing_issues/Improving_private_renting) lay out many things it wants to change about the rental market, but don’t list anything that’s actually of benefit to the landlord. Landlord’s are in it for profit; they are not social housing organisations. Shelter want to “Attract new investment into the provision of high quality private rented homes, particularly on longer term tenancies”. How do they propose to do this? Investment has to provide a return, high quality costs money and rents increase, defeating the purpose.

      As for local objections to new house builds, the same principle applies; what is the incentive for local residents to want more housing nearby? More traffic, more pollution, more noise, more strain on local services. People bought their houses where they wanted them after weighing up costs, location, safety, crime rates, street cleanliness, noise, quality of next door’s roses, etc, etc, etc and made a decision. Declaring after the fact that more housing is now going to be built upsets that calculation and always reduces the value that they had placed on their decision (unless the houses built are MORE expensive than the ones they live in, which pushes up nearby prices, brings in more affluent people, raises local school attainment, etc) . It’s an argument you can never win.

      Unsurprisingly, the lack of objection to new housing comes from those in most need of it and objection comes from those who don’t. This wasn’t hard to figure out. So make sure the housing is built as close as possible to the people that want it and make them the immediate beneficiaries. New estate next to tower block. Demolish tower block.

      Finally(!), some places are full and some places are expensive. Artificially creating the equivalent of standing room only or giving away free tickets to those with no money while ignoring those that have money but not enough to buy a ticket does seem to skew things somewhat and reinforce the idea of “the squeezed middle”.

      Anyway, find some concrete incentives for the objectors (“We are committed to maintaining the desirability of the area” won’t cut it; you can be as committed as you want, but will you send me a cheque to cover my losses if you fail?) and you might get somewhere. Appealing solely to their sense of social justice isn’t likely to get you very far.

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