Growing support for housebuilding opens the door for the government to take real action

Published: by Robin White

It is still generally accepted that new housing developments suffer opposition from NIMBYs. As such NIMBYism is commonly seen to be one of the main blockages to the building of more homes in England; an insurmountable obstacle in the eyes of some commentators because it prevents politicians from taking action out of fear of ballot box reprisal.

However, the data on this simply doesn’t back the assumption up. A report released last week by the National Housing Federation (Demise of the NIMBY: Changing attitudes to building new homes) contains the latest polling on attitudes to new housing carried out by the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. This report shows a continuation of a theme that has become apparent over recent years – that opposition to new housebuilding is falling and support is rising quickly. As it stands 57% of people in England say they would support the building of new homes, up from 28% in 2010. This then rises further when it comes to affordable homes:

Support and opposition for homes being built in local area generally and if they are affordable to people on average incomes

Support and opposiiton for new homes

Source: National Housing Federation Demise of the NIMBY

This is a theme that Shelter have noted before in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Then we picked up on the fact that between 2010 and 2015 opposition to housebuilding comprehensively collapsed. This was also mirrored by an increasing interest in housing among voters: by the 2015 Election housing had become a top 5 issue among voters, and this trend continues with housing remaining one of the dominant voter issues in England.

As the National Housing Federation report picks up, this growing support is also notable for its universality. The data they have presented shows support for building new homes far outstrips opposition among all voter groups, age brackets and regions.

And this is particularly the case for housing that is considered as being affordable for local people: only 15% of people say they would oppose new housing if it was affordable to local people, with 73% saying they would support.

For the government they can now be sure that both their own voters, and voters that would generally back alternative parties would support measures to increase housebuilding numbers.

Percentage of voters that would support new homes in their local area if they were affordable to local people[i]:

Liberal Democrat75%

Alongside the voter interest in housing this means that there is both a political space and a political imperative to act.

In addition, the fact that this dramatic change has taken place over a relatively short period. and coincides with an increasing interest among voters on housing is no coincidence. People are increasingly aware that new homes are unaffordable, poor quality and too few. When this is then put against a private rented market that is growing but which remains unstable and insecure it is unsurprising that support for the primary measure to address this – building more homes – is on the rise.

This is not to say support for new homes is unconditional. As our conversations with voters in Medway showed (part of our Wolfson prize entry to design a new Garden City), to lock in local support for more homes you need to convince people they will be (a) affordable and (b) for people like them. But do that, and opposition can be quelled.

However, the overall change in perception is still important and opens up space for the government to embark on a radical overhaul of the housebuilding market in England that will finally see dramatic increases in the numbers of homes being built.

The Housing White Paper due out this week presents the government with the chance to take up this opportunity. In this the government can implement the measures that are needed to help get more homes built. If they fail to take this opportunity though then housing as an issue will continue to rise until such point that the time to act has passed and the chances of providing a secure, affordable home for all has passed this government by as it has so many others.

[i] Source: NatCen’s British Social Attitude survey 2016, published by National Housing Federation in Demise of the NIMBY