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.
How would you change attitudes to housing?