I am writing fresh from my first planning consultation event as part of the Social Communications team! This was the first major piece of work I got stuck into and it was great to work with experienced and talented colleagues, learning about the design and execution of the display material and event itself.
The consultation event gave me an opportunity to test the feeling I had been considering, a subtle change in the air over planning and housebuilding – the sacred cow that is the greenbelt may not be so sacred after all.
To be sure, I am not reporting a colossal sea-change in opinion. Polling from last year showed that 42 per cent of those surveyed opposed the idea of loosening green belt restrictions on even the least attractive land. Although 47 per cent did agree that parts of the countryside should be used for new housing and other development.
Quite rightly, there should be a level of protection over areas with greater community value and aesthetic appeal. But with rising house prices coupled with sluggish wage growth over many decades, and the reality biting, more people may look to the greenbelt to assist in solving the housing crisis.
For real substantive change to be made, this issue must be on the agenda in both Westminster and the wider country. Politically, housing could have been the major policy concern of the government, until the small matter of Brexit negotiations took hold. However, a showcase policy announcement of Conservative Party conference last year pledged to encourage local authorities to borrow and build more homes. Labour too have made bold commitments over housing, pledging to build over 100,000 affordable homes each year. It is no wonder that dire warnings have been raised about each party’s political future should Generation Rent continue to be locked out of home ownership.
The younger generation of Conservative politicians – and I specifically mention Conservatives because they predominantly represent areas with larger greenbelt area, seem to be grasping this notion. Simon Clarke MP, elected in 2017, has penned an interesting policy suggestion to free up green belt land for development within a half-mile radius of stations. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, has rather less elegantly claimed that we need to build on the greenbelt or risk ‘Marxists’ in power.
It is easy to forget at these consultation events that a vital stakeholder is not usually in the room – the site’s potential homeowner. These invisible stakeholders must be kept in mind amongst the concerns being raised, alongside the views of existing residents. I heard greater consideration for these silent consultees, as the narrative on the housing crisis and its potential for the greenbelt to play a greater role may be starting to stick.
I left my first consultation event at Social Communications firstly tired – it had been a long and productive day! But I also left with renewed confidence that just maybe, attitudes are changing in communities as well as in Parliament. One of Social Communications’ key objectives is to engage with folk from the pub to parliament, and this message neatly encapsulates what needs to keep happening to help see our country delivering the housing we need.
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