September 4, 2015

The Daily Durning: Sound Familiar?

From The Guardian:


Why the nimbys are winning the UK’s housing battles


Middle England is at war and the enemy is housing. Scores of campaigns against new housing developments have sprung up over the past two years and this surge of activism has been unleashed by a fatal contradiction in government policy.

In the red corner is the National Planning Policy Framework that requires councils to provide new homes to meet housing demand. In the blue corner is the coalition’s localism agenda, which promised to make the planning system more democratic and introduced neighbourhood plans to allow communities a say in where new houses and businesses should go.

Localism sounds fine in principle but the reality is that the well-off and the well-housed are using it to resist, rather than promote, the development of new homes.

The Cambridge plan proposes 14,000 new homes, of which just 3% are due to be built on the green belt. This has caused a frenzy of opposition from campaign groups who were heavily represented at the meeting. They used every possible argument to protect their views and their house prices, even proposing that a city centre flood-plain site occupied by a bowls club should have houses built upon it instead.

A recent study by Turley of neighbourhood plans paints the same story. It found that, of 75 published neighbourhood plans, 55% of plans were designed solely to resist development, rising to 63% in rural areas. It also found 73% were in areas with Conservative councils, and just 9% in Labour areas. Three-quarters of plans were in the south of England, where the need for housing is greatest and only nine of the published plans were in areas described as “most deprived”.

The well-off are not only protecting their areas from new homes, they are also pushing undesirable developments into poorer neighbourhoods.

We need to build 250,000 homes a year in England and a good proportion will have to be built on greenfield sites. Last year in England we built only 107,000 homes yet many local authorities have tried to reduce the numbers of planned homes in response to protest campaigns.

Local plans are now taking four months longer to put in place, and further delaying the development of new homes, mainly because of these battles over housing numbers.

In the national debate about housing, the voices of the homeless and badly housed are not being heard. There is a democratic deficit in our planning system the voices of those who need homes need to be heard too.

Colin Wiles is an independent housing consultant

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      1. Well this article paints that as a reasonable figure for the UK and labels those objecting to it as NIMBYS.

        The problem in the UK as in the Lower Mainland is that importing population is putting a strain on the natural environment.. But nobody labels it as an environmental issue for fear if being tagged a racist.

        1. England has a big “primate city” problem with London, while centres like Manchester and Birmingham have shrank from their historical industrial peaks. There’s room to grow if you build up not out. Nonetheless, 65m people – almost 2 Canada’s – living in an area about a third the size of BC is quite a feat.

  1. Indeed the “localism” act is producing unintended consequences – delaying, stalling or even squashing development projects. Small groups of citizens can exert influence in a way that is not truly representative of the wider population.

    In most UK cities and towns, there are significant brownfield areas that could be developed with more intensity. The UK is quite “sprawly” not unlike North America. There ARE real alternatives to expanding into green belts but they involve trade-offs like height and development intensity which challenge the design DNA of most British towns and cities.

    Compact building footprints like those we’re familiar with in Vancouver are rare here in the UK. Culturally there is a fondness if not planning prescription for dual aspect design (units with windows front and back) that produce monolithic building forms whenever you try to stack them up at midrise height or higher.

    When you look at postwar London, you discover that their response to the housing and rebuilding emergency of the 50s and 60s was to take the basic form of the terrace row and just stack them 6 to 8 storeys high for 200-500 feet with an external deck for access and ubiquitous brick for cladding. As an added bonus, the ground floors were given over to car parking. This produced tragic environments, housing estates that are now being torn down a little more than 50 years later.

    Modernist high rises in the UK were built pretty much on the same principles. So within UK culture there is a general public antipathy for density, informed by the design DNA of earlier failed forms of modernism. That’s a significant challenge for new development because you need reasonable density to make a development financially viable here.

    Another impediment to achieving significant new housing is the appetite and requirement for developers to fund pretty much all new non-market housing. Localism allows small groups of people to determine not only what forms of building get built where, but also the MIX of development, notwithstanding the basic economic forces and realities. A community group may want 50% non-market housing in a particular area – the assumption being that since the state is not funding new affordable housing, the development industry will shoulder the load (ironically the state continues to sell off ageing social housing through “right to buy” schemes but that’s another story). Given the cost of land and construction, the reality is that these demands are driving up the cost of market housing and increasing the risk exposure for the development industry.

  2. “the assumption being that since the state is not funding new affordable housing, the development industry will shoulder the load”

    Disastrous for affordability. An indirect tax too. The richer in society are the only ones able to buy. If the government wants more affordable housing built, then instead of taxing the richer more, they have them subsidize developers. Once the richer have their homes the value simply increases since more housing is always needed. As local governments dictate that developers build even more affordable housing the inflation of the existing stock is certain. No wonder the wealth gap is growing.