BLOG : What if Shapps is right?

26 Feb 2010


There are a lot of Tories in the housebuilding industry, I reckon. To be fair, I don't go around checking everyone's political affiliation when I meet them but I get the sense that the Conservatives are the natural home of many in the new homes sector - I think you know what I mean.

However, their support must be being sorely tested  by the Tories' planning proposals which aim to give more power to local communities over planning decisions. This is worrying housebuilders a lot and indeed when Housebuilder sent out an email announcing that these long awaited proposals had been published, we got some choice replies from the industry expressing their concern. "Barking", "bonkers" and "bizarre" from the more polite - expletives from others. A "high risk strategy" said the HBF, with commendable restraint.

Housebuilders reckon that local authorities are already delaying the planning process in anticipation of a Conservative victory which will enable them to stop development. Redrow boss Steve Morgan says the plans are like "putting mice in charge of the cheese cupboard". Everyone, but everyone, I speak to is against these plans....apart of course from shadow housing minister Grant Shapps.

Three days after the publication of the planning green paper I saw Shapps defend the policies at the NHBC Lecture Series. He expressed surprise that housebuilders were not on board with these plans: "I can't believe that big housebuilders, instead of relying on their wit and knowhow, want a planned system not a free market system."

His argument is this - the planned top down system is just not working because you can not force people to do what you want. If new homes are to be built, you have to take communities with you - by incentivising them, by showing them the benefits of new development. And, if the incentives don't work, give them bigger incentives. Simple.

Maybe it was the heat in the room, or maybe it was the gentle ambience of the London Capital Club, but I started to thinking: "What if he's right?" What if it is time to rethink the whole way of planning new homes on the basis that the other way just doesn't work. It is a sign of madness to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome - so unless the industry devises a way of getting local communities onside then housebuilders will hit the same problems of opposition time and again. Perhaps it is worth a go - the Tories include a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" and Shapps is sure that the Tories will build more new homes than Labour has in its time in charge.

But then I left the Club, took a breath of fresh air - and remembered the nature of the local nimby opposition to development, particualrly in the south, and realised that a) a few quid here or there is not going to change their mind and b) this policy actually panders to them because they are natural Tory voters.

"Barking", "bonkers" and "bizarre" indeed - but also designed to keep the Tories' friends onside.



Comments: 6

I am a life long Tory and housebuilder but I find the current policy unbelievably naive. Does anyone genuinely believe that NIMBYism can be bought off with "incentives"? The planning system is broken and has become completely bogged down in proceedure and red tape. Handing total control of the system to the very people who are opposed to development can only have one outcome - very few new homes for our kids to buy! Has anyone ever met a local councillor who is in favour of development? Just shows that the voters my Party want to attract are the NIMBY's.
Malcolm Lippiatt
on 26 Feb 2010
at 13:20

Having worked at national developers in the past I understand the concerns of this issue, with local nimby opposition to development, however that is already there and will not go away with any system. What I belive will change is the way applications are dealt with. Pre planning community consultation to all major / sensitive applications would inform the community earlier on and if relevant issues are raised they can be dealt with prior to planning submision. This may cause some developers to raise their eyebrows but at the same time how many applications are refused due to relevant community issues being raised during the 13 week timescales only to be dealt with at resubmission stage (doubling the application timescales at the least not to mention aditional costs). I believe that the current system is due for a change the details of which will be finalised by the more influential people than individual practitioners. Our company like many others has had to deal with scheme changes / refusals brought about by community issues raised to the planner at the eleventh hour. As a reponse to mitigate potential costly delays and assist the process we developed a system of Pre planning consultation which we have made available to everyone as these are issues we all have to deal with. regards Paul Deakin Director
Paul Deakin
on 26 Feb 2010
at 13:20
Maybe there should be a new radical approach to planning - put the interested parties in a room and don't let them out until they all agree on the solution.
Adrian Mountjoy
on 26 Feb 2010
at 14:48
Developers would be surprised at the amount of latent support that there is out there. Yes, you will always get the very vocal opposition, but developers need to engage with the silent majority. Chelgate has been undertaking this on behalf of developers for over two decades, and we have not been involved with a project that has failed for the last 10!
Michael Hardware
on 01 Mar 2010
at 09:33
If you want to see an example of how poorly this proposal will work take a look at the conflict that is developing in the market town of Wallingford where the la SODC has been attempting to find a site for 750 units for the period to 2026.

All would agree that Wallingford needs to provide considerably more affordable housing but none of the neighbours to the 3 proposed sites wants it built on their back door & can find plenty of plausible reasons why ANOther site gets chosen.

NIMBY's are all selfish its human nature & will want to preserve green field views etc rather than looking at new homes.

As for selling schemes to these opponents does Shapps advocate £ in compensation for the loss of amenity & loss in property values that opponents protest against?

The more educated/affluent the opponents the more dogged their opposition.

Who pays for the views of the silent majority to be promoted?

Planning gain outside of statutory requirements is not an option.

So how do the options for the good folk of Wallingford get judged?

Rather than provide leadership the local politicians restart he process and try and reduce the number of homes !!

Graham Holliday
on 02 Mar 2010
at 14:52
I have to agree with Graham Holliday - this is happening all the time especially away from cities.

An example recently is a single affluent opponent to an important equine business in a historic but declining equine area. Recommended for approval by the case officer the affluence of the opponent swayed the local planning committee/councillors who saw fit to refuse.

Appeal was granted but 10+ unemployed skilled key workers in a small village who had been out of work for a year since a previous business had closed - whilst the 'city professional' sat in their big country house at the weekend.

Even though the appeal was won the business could not wait another breeding season and those job prospects were relocated out of the area.

No amount of incentives is going to buy out NIMBY - ever.
ian lapsley
on 26 Mar 2010
at 13:25

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