We’ve been arguing for a while (since about 1966, in fact) that as a country we need to build more good quality affordable homes. Sadly, though, the last fifty years have in fact seen an almost continuous decline in the number of new homes being built.
But there are signs that there is an increasing appetite for this to change. At last year’s party conferences, David Cameron urged people to accept that ‘we need more homes in Britain’, while Ed Balls called for the building of “the homes that we need now and for the long-term”.
And this week, both the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce have urged the Chancellor to include plans for more housebuilding in the forthcoming Budget. There is public support, too: as this great Ipsos Mori infographic (pdf) shows, 80% of people think that there is a housing crisis in the country, and 82% think Government should give more attention to housing as an issue.
So we’re all agreed, then? Ah. Well, not quite. You see, the problem is that if we are going to build more homes in this country, then it’s going to upset some people who like the idea of more homes in principle – just not in their back yard.
And here’s the rub. We can come up with solutions for all manner of obstacles to housebuilding – better use of land, increased competition, more sustainable financing – but our best efforts might still come to nothing if we can’t overcome the opposition of NIMBYs. Remember that 80% of people who think there’s a national housing crisis? Only 45% think there’s a crisis in their local area.
This tension – between a national desire to build more homes and local opposition to new developments – is about to get much more acute, as changes introduced in last year’s Localism Act give local people more power than ever before to influence housing developments. In other words, there’s never been a more important time for housebuilders and developers to be really good at community engagement.
That’s why we’ve produced the Shelter Housing Insights tool: a free online resource designed to help developers and others win local support for new homes. We’ve combined quantitative data on demographic breakdown with extensive bespoke surveys on housing attitudes to produce a one-stop shop for finding out what people really think about homes in their local area. It means we can get to the bottom of why different groups of people oppose new homes being built – and which arguments might persuade them otherwise.
For some people, for example, the prospect of new homes brings to mind the risk that local infrastructure won’t be able to cope with the added pressure. For some, it’s a concern that their own house will drop in value. Others just don’t want to see poor quality, badly designed homes arriving on the outskirts of their village. Each of these groups will need to hear a very different response to allay their concerns. Our Housing Insights tool allows developers to see the make-up of a local area by demographic profile, to understand these people’s major housing concerns, and then to tailor their communications to alleviate their worries.
The tool can also show which particular groups might in fact say “yes” to homes in their back yard. These ‘YIMBYs’ (to coin a phrase) often have latent support for housebuilding, which can be activated if only developers and councils target and speak to them in the right way.
Why not see what it says about your local area? Who lives there? What do they think about housing? It’s simple and quick to do, and will help you see if your neighbours are more likely to be NIMBYs or YIMBYs.
There is a critical need for new homes in this country. At a national level, more and more people are beginning to understand this. If this is to translate into real progress, though, then housing developers will need to allay the fears of the NIMBY, and give voice to the YIMBY. Shelter’s Housing Insights tool can help them do just that.