Last week saw the new Housing Minister Chris Pincher answer questions in the House of Commons for the first time since his appointment in the recent reshuffle. It was interesting in that it gave us an early indication that the new Government is keen to move the debate from meeting yearly housing targets, to a focus on ensuring high quality development.
Illustrating that shift, the Government announced a new statutory independent New Homes Ombudsman, which would have the power to make developers pay compensation for poor build quality; and in extreme cases, even prevent developers from undertaking further work. Interestingly the ombudsman’s remit would also cover issues such as fuel, energy and broadband performance.
The simple answer is that the Government is going to hit its target. The Conservative manifesto promised to deliver a million homes over the lifetime of this parliament, and with current delivery around 250,000 homes per year, it seems very likely that this target will be met and probably exceeded.
But there is also a recognition that the ‘right’ type of homes need to be delivered and the relaxation of permitted development rules has seen some very poor examples of commercial to residential conversions.
This shift in narrative from the Government also encapsulates the broader debate about housing in the UK. There is nearly universal acceptance about the need to deliver more housing on a macro level, but as soon as planners and developers look at earmarking sites for housing locally that consensus evaporates, with a vocal minority making its views known.
You can pre-empt how those concerns will manifest themselves at public consultations, with housing density, infrastructure and inappropriate/unnecessary development being some of the key arguments deployed. How often have we heard that a scheme of 400 homes will result in 1,000 people moving into the local area overnight; and see an equal number of cars depart simultaneously at 8am every morning – probably to try and get a GP appointment.
As an industry we know these issues will come up but too often we only respond defensively, limiting the scope of the debate to the topics highlighted by opponents. We know that new schools and highway improvements that come with larger developments will benefit existing residents, but often we frame our response to say it won’t have a negative impact on them. At the same time, the regeneration of derelict sites is framed as being preferable to green belt development, rather than extolling the benefits of the regeneration on its own merits.
It’s time to shift the narrative and make the positive case for development. We need tell our side of the story which we know resonates with the silent majority. If we don’t shift the debate, we are going to continue having the same conversations with opponents and struggle to see schemes delivered; and we will have to take our share of the blame for that.
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