UK housing policy has been broken for too long. The shallow and circular nature of our national debate on homes has been accompanied with plenty of rhetoric, and little substance. And it has not been without consequence. The failure to meet demand for homes, and importantly, building homes where people want them, has had serious and long-term consequences for our communities, for the economy, and almost certainly for our politics.
Notwithstanding the economic consequence of making it more difficult for people to live near where they can get the best paid job for them, not building enough homes in desired areas has had severe impacts on the cost and quality of living.
It means people are forced to spend more of their income on accommodation, and less on living life well. And if they fight back against the high costs, say by moving to another area, they just pay in a different way. With a longer commute, with poorer quality housing, perhaps having to share accommodation with strangers, or simply by staying at the family home for longer.
According to the ONS, around one-third of 18 to 34-year-olds in the UK are still living with their parents. That is 4.8 million adult Brits living under the feet of mum and dad. A shameful statistic.
These are 20-somethings who are not responsible for running their own household, adult children who are not the main bill payer, and young couples who will inevitably delay starting a family until they can afford more suitable accommodation.
Perhaps for understandable reasons, planning reform has been treated a little like a big game of pass the parcel. Anxious to be seen to take part in the ‘we are builders’ narrative, successive Governments have wanted to move the process along, talking a good game, but not be left holding the pen when the music stops. They are petrified of their local Nimbys. And perhaps, for good reason.
For homeowners the incentives work the other way around. Local development is seen as a risk that they want to control. A risk to the value of the largest asset they will ever buy, or even the essential character of their local area, and let’s be honest, it’s a risk that may not appear to have any upside for them.
How can we expect there to be the political will to build more homes, if there is nothing beneficial to offer the majority of a constituency’s voting residents?
And that’s exactly what needs to change.
A new poll from CT Local and the Adam Smith Institute shows that, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to shift the balance of public opinion and achieve popular local support for homebuilding in people’s communities.
The research shows that it is possible to win over the notorious ‘Nimbys’, who can be persuaded to support local homebuilding on the condition that residents are involved in the process, that building more homes in their area will help get young people out of the family home, and will attract greater local investment.
We found that:
- 71% would back building more homes locally if residents had the power to agree when they were confident it would benefit their community
- 64% back local housebuilding if it would help protect their local high street
- 68% would back more local home if it meant local services would improve
- 58% of Nimbys are supportive of more local housebuilding if it meant greater investment in local health and education services
So Nimbys can be turned on to the idea of more development in their area by establishing housing development as a means of paying for improved communities and local services, reviving the local High Street, and increasing demand for local jobs. After all, if there aren’t enough customers in the area, small businesses cannot continue in the area.
And what of the political benefit?
If done right, planning reform could deliver a major electoral boost, particularly to the Conservatives, but also to Labour. There can be up to a 5-percentage point boost to the government’s current vote figures, if done in a way that levels up. That’s a lot of votes for building more homes.
Our poll shows that a large number of voters, mainly younger people, frustrated that they are unable to own a home, are willing to switch their vote from Labour and the Lib Dems to the Conservatives, if they commit to build more of them in a way that improves their local community.
The research shows that a government with a mandate to ‘level-up’ has a serious opportunity to squash Labour’s recovery before it materialises, through a transformative, community-centred homebuilding programme. If the Conservatives want to build a sustainable electoral coalition, then they should build more homes to root the next generation in a community that they have a social and financial stake in.
So Nimbys can be persuaded to get behind more homes in their communities. But only on the condition that they are part of the planning process, that the personal benefits are made clear, and if it breathes new life into struggling High Streets.
The author is Head of Research at C|T RSR and a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute. He is co-author of the report, Build Me Up, Level Up: Popular homebuilding while boosting local communities.