Is cash for communities enough to tackle NIMBYs?

It was with some gusto that Planning Minister Nick Boles launched the latest Government planning policy to incentivise new house building on Newsnight yesterday evening.

Agreeing with Shelter’s research findings that a key barrier in the planning system is often local opposition to new homes being built, Boles proposed that a proportion of money raised from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) when new developments are approved would go directly to local community groups to spend on infrastructure.

In practice this would mean that communities which have a Neighbourhood Plan will collect 25% of all money raised from a CIL payment – which could be £100,000s. It would be up to the Neighbourhood Forum to decide how to spend, in line with their locally democratically approved plan.

Not familiar with these terms? Don’t worry. They’re relatively new, having been brought in through the Localism Act. The premise is giving communities, at a more local level than councils, powers and influence by allowing them to develop planning policy for a defined area.

I’m involved in setting a Neighbourhood Plan in my area, one of about 300 in train across the country, and from that perspective I think the chance to have a say in how this money would be spent would really encourage people to get involved. It would give people a much stronger motivation to get involved than abstract planning policy.

But I question whether money on its own is enough to really tackle NIMBY opposition to new developments.

From Shelter’s research, we know that a major reason people oppose new development is a belief that it won’t benefit local people. What they see are new homes being built that are expensive, badly designed, maybe too small or lacking outside space for a growing family.

People do recognise that it’s hard for their children or grandchildren to get a decent and affordable home in their local area. But the same people oppose new homes being built because they don’t see new homes being on offer to them or their family.

Affordability is the key thing here. And to be fair, it’s on the Government’s radar. Boles mentioned that new proposals would be announced soon to make mortgages more affordable for people. The challenge for government will be making sure that these homes are truly within reach of people on low and middle incomes, the so-called ‘people who want to get on’.

Both NewBuy and FirstBuy, the Government’s flagship first time buyer schemes, really struggle to make family-size homes affordable for working families on lower and middle incomes in more expensive parts of the country – especially London, the South and the East.

If the Government really wants to encourage local communities to support new homes in their area, they will need bolder proposals to bring homes within reach of the people who live there. I know this would encourage people in my local area to support new homes.