London needs nearly 50,000 new homes to be built every year until 2035, but in 2015 the number of new homes completed was just 24,620.
Of course, there are many reasons why the number of houses being built is just shy of being half what the capital needs. While developers are quick to blame labour shortages and a clunky planning system, a new report from Centre for London explores another impediment: opposition from local residents.
Where successful, opposition to new housing developments restricts the supply of land available for building. Where opposition is not successful, it can delay development, add costs and reduce the number of units delivered.
Stopped: Why People Oppose Residential Development in Their Back Yard, identifies what residents fear are the seven deadly sins of residential development:
- An increase in population will place a strain on local services;
- A decline in trust between residents, developers and local authorities;
- The local identity may be threatened by outsiders;
- New developments may change the character or identity of the place they call home;
- Planning debates could be hijacked for alternative agendas;
- A sense of powerlessness arising from a lack of genuine engagement;
- The fear of noise and safety impacts from construction.
On their own, common solutions such as consultation, neighbourhood planning, incentives, and Community Land Trusts are incapable of dealing with these objections. “Unfortunately, the government’s approach to overcoming opposition to development has not been helpful in fostering productive, trusting relationships,” said Matt Thomson, Head of Planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
“By weakening communities’ influence on decisions, and financially incentivising decision makers to approve developments, the government has further driven a wedge between the people affected by decisions and the people who make decisions,” he added.
According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, communities have also been frustrated by speculative development applications outside local plans. “Communities would feel more trust in developers if housebuilders followed the policies and proposals of local and neighbourhood plans, and then built out the permissions they had rather than applying to build more homes on other, unallocated, sites,” said Thomson.
The report argues that developers and local authorities must gain an accurate understanding of the types of local opposition to housing developments before trying to resolve them. It then suggests that by mixing and matching solutions to address the challenges on a specific site, it should be possible to simultaneously improve the quality and increase the quantity of new residential development.
“As the report recognises, neighbourhood planning can set the framework for the evolution of local neighbourhoods, and improve engagement with councils and developers,” said Thomson. “But more generally we should seek to emphasise that the consequent development and plans must reflect community aspirations and meet local need as defined in the relevant local or neighbourhood plan.”
Centre for London’s report makes a good start in exploring the reasons why people may be opposed to development proposals in their neighbourhoods. With a clear and pressing need for more homes to be built, the report provides a welcome look at how development can be carried out in harmony with, rather than against, communities’ wishes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Marco Raaphorst