How can we change attitudes to new housing?

Recently a couple of things happened that really got me thinking about our national attitude towards new housing.

Firstly, the British Social Attitudes Survey published by the National Centre for Social Research showed that opposition to new homes is strongest in the south of England where housing shortages are most severe. Contrarily, most people seem to accept that new homes are needed, so the survey actually officially quantifies the NIMBY factor. The fact that homeowners themselves were the strongest opponents confirms this. The narrow self-interest is blatant.

Worryingly the survey also showed that the opposition is probably unreasonable too, in that people value the advantages that new homes bring, such as increased employment opportunities and more green space, better transport, schools, community facilities and shops, but almost nobody, only two per cent, said that financial incentives to existing residents would change their (closed) minds.

The subtext here is that the public expects private sector housebuilders to fund public infrastructure unconditionally, yet still is not happy to allow it to do so.

Secondly, a chance listen to Radio 4’s ‘Farming Today’ allowed me to hear a long discussion about how farmers should be subsidised to undertake environmental improvements to their land by leaving fallow areas and expanding hedgerows etc. Interestingly the discussion was not about whether farmers should receive the subsidy, merely about how it was applied. How often do we hear the public questioning farming subsidies?

Isn’t it fascinating that our two core needs as a society, such as food and shelter, should be treated so differently? The public expects farmers to be subsidised for their environmental improvements, while housebuilders are expected to fund most of their environmental improvements directly from profits. All of our regeneration of blighted areas, our new trees and tree retention, our green amenity areas, our bat houses, new badger setts and newt ponds should all be free. Just to be clear I’m not arguing for market-distorting housing subsidies, merely pointing out the attitudinal inconsistency in the minds of the public.

Perhaps we should look forward to a new Radio 4 programme called ‘Housing Today’? Maybe it will happen as housing shortages deepen and the planning system fossilises further! In all seriousness though, as an industry we need to do much more to tell people what our industry brings in terms of job creation, environmental improvements and community facilities and highlight all the many good examples of design quality that there are. Certainly the Government understands the vital importance of housebuilding in getting the economy back on the road to recovery, but we do need a broader understanding of it.

Graham Cherry

How would you change attitudes to housing?

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2 Responses to How can we change attitudes to new housing?

  1. Edward iveagh says:

    The chances of realising commensurate profit with reasonable risk determines the commissioning of building schemes within our planning framework.

    Builders buy, hold, develop and sell assets – they move on each time. If society’s asks become too onerous, or the planning framework too cumbersome, quite frankly the wont be adequate development – such is the case in some parts of the country. The builder makes a conscious decision with many known facts at his disposal at the onset of any scheme – they are free to determine the pace and scale of any development with the social obligation element pre- determined and worked into their business model.

    A farmers stake in his locality is typically more enduring. The farmer produces outputs, whether they be food, materials, landscape, valued habitats, or not, as the case may be. The land is like unstoppable conveyor belt, producing wanted or unwanted goods; as directed by public policy and/or by the free market. Public policy alters the nature of the output; but a huge element of our economy relies on a cared for countryside – a significant proportion of the UK’s £115bn tourism market is generated by britain’s “beauty spots” – all managed by Uk Farmers. The Norfolk Broads or the Yorkshire Dales would not be the destinations of choice without expensive managed intervention.

    I am a UK farmer, and like many of us, would say no to receipt of government support in an ideal world. The UK’s farms receive their subsidy through Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy. It is supposed to make a level playing field, and we compete with our European neighbours and globally in many markets.

    To pull out of the CAP would mean our country losing hundreds of millions or billions of pounds in lost revenue. To do so may or may not cause an international trade war which may or may not cost the UK many more hundreds of millions or billions of pounds.

    Of course we can argue, like we have been in Europe that it needs to radically change the nature of CAP – thereby abiding by the rules and maintaining a semblence of a level playing field within Europe, but to pull out unilaterally would be woefully destructive to the fabric of our countryside in every sense.

    To lose public subsidy would effectively force closure on the vast majority of UK family farms – whose return on capital employed is much worse than most other industries, including developers, and only producing marginal returns from a large segment.

    Should we deviate from EU policy, the impact would be to curtail our economy, as recent unilateral action has shown. Take the UK’s unilateral ban on sow crates – nothing has stopped the Danes growing their market share in our bacon market deploying production methods made illegal for UK producers. We are not allowed to put food labels warning our customers of these substandard practices. The Danes now control circa 60% of our bacon market, and growing.

    Do we want our countryside to be managed by only a few large players? Do we care?

    I so agree that we need to build more homes, the price of new homes is above the means of so many. You can’t have local jobs, for local people without adequate societal infrastructure.

    Why cant we boost initiatives for farmers to enhance local building supply chains.

    The danger of the localism Bill chokes off development in parts of the country most in should not be underestimated.

    Lastly, I would be surprised if there was a building scheme in the country whose bat boxes, badger setts or newt ponds that could not be effectively managed by a local farmer network – they would join the many tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands already managed by the UK’s farms.

    Quite enough from me!

  2. kevin tierney says:

    House builders don’t make their profit from selling houses; they make it from selling the land on which the houses are built. The cost of building a 3 bed semi in Penzance is pretty much the same as in Berwick, i.e. the cost of bricks, tiles, bathroom/kitchen, cement etc. What makes the value of the housing different is the value of the land the house is built on. Take that out of the equation and house prices would plummet; but how? The public sector owns hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. The house purchaser would buy the house from the house builder, and rent the land from the public sector (on a 125/999 year lease to satisfy mortgage providers); the house builder building under licence. It does mean of course that the house builders’ profits would drop, as they’d be getting c20% on cost of construction, and fees, excluding land, but then so would their borrowing.

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