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Opinion: The housing crisis is in plain sight of the British public

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Opinion: The housing crisis is in plain sight of the British public

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: The housing crisis is in plain sight of the British public Opinion: The housing crisis is in plain sight of the British public

By Colin Wiles

Finally, some good news for UK housing. Public support for housebuilding has risen sharply over the past three years.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey shows that those who would oppose homes being built in their local area has fallen from 46% in 2010 to 31% in 2013. Those who would support new homes rose from 28% in 2010 to 47% over the same period and net opposition (opponents minus supporters) has fallen from plus 18% in 2010 to minus 16%.

Encouragingly, opposition to new homes fell across all age, tenure and income groups, although home owners and those living in smaller towns and cities were still more likely to be opposed to new homes.

Eighty-two per cent of respondents agreed that, “there is a shortage of homes that are affordable to buy in England”, with 73% agreeing that, there is a shortage “in my local area”. Overall, this represents a significant shift in opinion.

Oddly, the new housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis, jumped into print to say that this surge of support was down to the government’s localism agenda, which had put local people in the driving seat. “We have set the stage for local areas to build the homes they need. That means councils and communities can decide together what to build and where, whether that’s a handful of homes, or a new Garden City.”

I say oddly, because in my experience the number of active groups opposing new housing has mushroomed in recent years. Regional targets may have disappeared, but local authorities are still required to arrive at an “objective assessment” of housing need for their area and planning inspectors have been rigorously enforcing the need for a five-year housing supply.

The nimby influence is ever-present in towns and cities across the country, often led by elderly homeowners, precisely the group least likely to support new homes. If Brandon Lewis is referring to neighbourhood plans, recent research has also shown that these have an overwhelming anti-growth agenda.

In my view, the shift in public opinion is nothing to do with planning reforms. At the margins, campaigns like Yes to Homes, Shelter, PricedOut and Generation Rent have had some impact and the popular press is also shifting its tone. The Daily Mail, in particular, is taking a far more nuanced view of housing. In the past its coverage could be summarised as “House Prices up – yippee!” , but now it is running thoughtful articles on the impact of rising house prices on Generation Rent.

But the main reason for the shift in public opinion, in my view, is that the British public no longer have to open a newspaper to see the results of failed housing policies. The crisis is in plain sight all around them in soaring rents and homelessness and the ever-retreating prospect of home ownership.

The question now is whether this shft in opinion will translate into policy. Let’s hope so.

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