Recently I have spent a lot of time listening to people talk about economic growth – how welcome it would be and how they would like to encourage it. The country certainly needs it and most councillors I hear from want to promote it. If you asked communities if they would like the council to help boost their economy I am sure they would say yes.
This is why I want to SHOUT very loudly – “How can you expect the economy to grow when you are anti housing development?”
With a population that is rapidly ageing occupying the existing housing stock and a continuing failure to build housing – where are the workers in the economy going to live? With mum and dad forever?
The majority of people are resistant to change. So leadership is needed to show them the connections between economic growth and housing. And they have to be reassured that there are not only negative impacts for them and their families.
In an IPSO Mori survey 63 per cent thought more than a quarter of land in England was developed (it is actually 10 per cent). And 66 per cent strongly agreed or tended to agree that they would support new development if it meant that enough affordable homes were provided for local residents In another poll for the BPF 61 per cent strongly agreed or tended to agree that they “would support new development if it helped to create jobs by attracting people and business to the area”.
We should be making policies and communicating the issues to communities in a way that will help them accept housing development. When are we going to see on telly, read in the tabloids and hear our leaders and those in positions of power saying: “We have a very serious national housing shortage that is thwarting economic growth and harming the lives of millions of people. We think that a huge house building programme should be supported by all – this is a national priority”.
The Government may say that this has been addressed by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Localism Act. These may go some way to achieving new housing but when many communities, and councils, still think that localism is about saying ‘no’ to development, how long will it take? Plan making will not take place overnight, with authorities having to objectively assess their need and comply with the duty to co-operate.
Viability versus infrastructure
If you listen to the house builders and developers, they say the developments can’t afford to pay for mitigation, affordable housing, or the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). One of the reasons given is that in parts of the country landowners will not lower their land price to a realistic level for the current market. Therefore, according to house builders, most of the country’s housing sites are underwater in terms of viability.
Savills have been tasked by the volume house builders to object to each CIL examination. Recently in Bristol they said that there should be a zero rate for all residential developments above 15 units – making no contribution to infrastructure in the city. And the RICS draft guidance on viability for planners shows that they believe the only negotiable element to bring a scheme into viability is mitigation and community elements (s106 planning obligations, affordable housing and CIL).
Therefore, if this attitude prevails development would fail to balance the economy, environment and social dimensions in the NPPF. Communities will become increasingly resistant to development and the anti-housing pressure on councillors to resist development will resultingly increase.
What needs to happen
If we want to grow the economy and meet the housing and economic needs of millions of young, working-age people, we have to build houses in the places where the demand and employment opportunities are. To make housing development acceptable to communities we need to ensure that there is affordable housing for local people and that it is properly supported by infrastructure.
This will not be adequately achieved in most of the country through the planning system where:
- the price of land remains unrealistically high
- there is no public funding
- CIL and/ or s106 is not set at a level to achieve the infrastructure and affordable housing for the developments, or development strategy and remain viable.
If Savills or the RICS approaches to CIL and plan making prevail it may not be achieved at all.
Strong leadership will be required to achieve housing development that both satisfies the community and is viable. This will require actions or mechanisms that take the land price to a level where development can meet its infrastructure and social costs. Or Government takes away from the planning system the burden of providing social housing and infrastructure to support development, and develops an alternative funding mechanism. It will also require a change of attitude from the volume house builders to the community and their needs.
The time may come when we do have real leadership on the urgent need for housing but it seems so unpopular with communities – in a short term political world – when will that happen?