What homes where?

Getting homes built is a tricky business. The new National Planning Policy Framework encourages local based planning (rather than top down regional spatial strategies) and more local community engagement on plans and holding councils to account. A big concern is how to deal with local opposition to any new development plans. That’s a lot for local councils to take on at a time of severe cuts to their budgets, along with imminent decisions on who gets affordable housing and for how long through their Tenancy Strategies.

We’ve teamed up with housing and planning organisations to find ways to support practitioners with these new challenges, and have just launched a new website that will hopefully give them a helping hand in developing their essential evidence base or (technical term!) their Strategic Housing Market Assessments. Now, every local council is required to assess full housing needs, working with neighbouring councils where housing market areas cross administrative boundaries.

The new website contains a ‘What Homes Where?’ tool which shows a series of charts and graphs how their area has grown to what it is today and what official projections show about how it might develop in future. It has been developed in response to calls from local practitioners for practical support in assessing how many homes are required in their area. We hope this will help housing and planning officers find their way through the mass of data about the number and type of households that will need housing in the future. A companion guide to the site is due out in the Autumn (watch this space).

As well as helping councils develop their plans, there’s a community engagement issue here. We are all encouraged to participate in the Big Society and become armchair auditors to hold our councils to account. But wading through dense reports on requirements for new housing is not easy. With new tools that make it easier to understand and share information we hope that the process will be more transparent for people to review, and ensure much needed consistency across areas.

This is not to say that local authorities will not still face opposition. Indeed in encouraging wider participation there is the risk that more local residents oppose proposals and it is even harder to get new developments through the planning process. Shelter has developed another free online resource to help councils with that. Shelter’s Housing Insights for Communities gives local councils an insight into their communities’ attitudes and concerns about new housing development. It suggests ways in which they can target their communications and consultations for different groups that will both address their fears and encourage engagement.

It is clear that the recession has had a devastating impact on the number of new homes started – in spite of the fact that Shelter’s recent research shows how building more homes could be helping to improve economic growth.

As I said, it’s a tricky business building homes, but we hope these practical and – critically – free tools can help councils get more homes built.