In 2019 the National Housing Federation estimated 8.4 million people in England are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home. Particularly, in rural areas suitable sites for development are rare, but often objections are raised by the local communities, typically the older generations that do not need the houses or community facilities developments offer. They are the ones attending the consultations to object to developments voicing concerns about increased traffic, loss of countryside, over subscribed schools etc.. But, the truth is there is a housing crisis and the younger generations who need affordable housing need to be as active in supporting developments, which offer incredible support to communities, as those are who oppose them.
The demand for housing continues to increase for a number of reasons; the break-up of families, children leaving home to live independently and many more socio-economic reasons. As demand continues to increase the housing crisis shows no sign of abating, there are simply not enough new houses being built, so house prices continue to rise, and the younger generations cannot get on the property ladder. Local authorities are falling behind in their 5-year housing land supply requirements particularly in rural areas and AONB (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) where it is harder to find suitable sites. So, when potential sites are identified and plans are met with ardent NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) protests from the older generations who already have their homes, the younger generations need to get involved to support the developments that will offer them the affordable housing options they need.
I specialise in strategic land promotion, competing the initial surveys and plans for access, drainage, utilities and transport planning to take a proposed development to a planning application. I am present at a lot of public consultations where new developments are met with a barrage of anger and negativity. Generally, these consultations are attended by the older generations who already own their own homes and are ultimately concerned, although they may not want to admit it, that any new development will affect the value of their homes.
In 2011 the Localism Act gave greater weight to local communities in planning decision making. All planning applications have to be approved by local planning authorities, such decision are often politically driven particularly if those opposed, local pressure groups, are influencing local councillors who want to be re-elected. While the government has started to look afresh at the planning agenda, as part of Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ policy the younger generations need to take action to match the objections of the older generations who are already well established on the property ladder.
The very few 20 and 30-year-olds that I have met at planning consultations are nearly always positive and value all the huge range of benefits that developments can bring. What we need is to somehow galvanise more younger people to attend these planning consultation events and support new developments because they not only offer new housing but help build successful and vibrant communities.
What is often overlooked or misunderstood is that these developments support the infrastructure of the communities they are building or joining. Developers are required to build new schools or expand existing ones, support healthcare provision, libraries, sports facilities, and recreational areas. It’s always part of the deal and an important part of the planning application process. These exponential benefits not only build communities but create jobs in both construction and the wider areas. Developers are not making the huge profits objectors think they are because of the investment they must make providing and supporting these services.
Established homeowners who are objecting may have forgotten what it’s like to be trying to get on the housing ladder. They may complain their children can’t afford to buy their own house without the bank of Mum and Dad, but still object to affordable homes being built near their towns and villages. Unfortunately, these homeowners typically have the time, resource and wherewithal to organise objections and rally others to their cause, making a monster of the proposed development and denying the preceding generations the chance of their owning their own homes locally. We only ever see ‘Save our village’ or ‘Say no to 1200 houses’ posters never ‘Welcome affordable housing’ or ‘Say yes to a new school and better roads’. The benefits and community elements are often ignored because those objecting simply don’t need them.
I would love to see younger people engaging in the consultation process. They have the power to balance out the objections of the NIMBYs and fight for the affordable homes that are so badly needed.
Matt Grist (Director and Head of Transport & Environmental Planning)