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December 16, 2015

The opposite of NIMBY

UK’s housing crisis is rarely out of the news. The solution is simple and complicated at the same time.  Everyone can agree we need many more houses to be built but not on the reasons for it not happening. One view is that the housebuilders come up against resistance from communities who don’t want new developments on their doorstep. But a new report from think tank Demos turns the NIMBY argument on its head. In fact, the report argues, community led development may actually hold the key to solving this crisis. 



A new report from cross-party think tank Demos calls on the Government to support local authorities to do more to tackle the UK’s housing crisis, by encouraging community-led developments and pushing for greater transparency in decision-making.

The report, Community Builders, finds many councils – particularly those in rural areas – are dragging their heels on approving new planning applications –including some councils where a third of all proposals for large developments are being rejected in the face of significant population growth.

Rather than arguing for Whitehall to step in to drive projects forward, the report argues that it is only through empowering communities to be more involved in housing projects that sufficient homes will be built – with the support of local residents.

Developed following extensive qualitative and quantitative analysis – including focus groups with residents throughout the country – Community Builders shows that concern for collective, community goods, such as local aesthetics, green spaces and community facilities are the primary drivers of opposition to development. Many participants in focus groups cited a lack of trust in the planning process, and a scepticism over whether local people would benefit from the availability of new housing, as their motivating factors in resisting new projects.

By contrast, the report finds that – when sufficiently democratic, transparent and inclusive in their structure – projects driven by community-led building schemes can help local residents to feel greater ownership over developments, and encourage them to support new house-building. They are also able to ensure they meet local needs, for example, by ensuring the homes provided are genuinely affordable for local people.

The report found that the legitimacy these groups have in the eyes of residents and councils means community-led projects are more likely to gain planning permission.  However, they are also slower to be approved, suggesting that the sector could benefit from more professional expertise and greater understanding of their benefits amongst council officers.

Overall, urban districts were found to approve the highest proportion of planning applications, and more quickly than their rural counterparts, but local hostilities towards house-building are stopping many much-needed developments from even reaching application stage. And of the modest number reaching councils, almost 20% of applications are being rejected nationally, in the face of one of the most acute housing shortages in our history.

Analysing local planning data between 2010 and 2015, Demos finds:

•        Local authorities in the North of England are granting a much higher proportion of planning applications for large housing developments than those in the South (89% in the North East compared to 75% in the South East) – where the housing market is suffering most from a shortage of supply.

•        Northern councils are also more likely to meet the 13-week target for making decisions, compared to those in the South (68% in the North East compared to 57% and 59% in the South West and East).

•        Metropolitan districts are approving a far higher percentage of residential applications (90%) than shire districts (78%) – although London boroughs (81%) were found to be performing relatively poorly.

Overall, Copeland, Gloucester, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Oldham, Wigan, Scarborough, Halton, Corby and Westminster were found to have approved the highest percentage of planning applications – with Copeland approving 100% of 40 applications. This compares to Maldon, where only 25% of 64 applications were approved.

When factoring in positive decisions, the decision timeframe and the overall number of applications, Scarborough came out on top, having granted 96% of 120 applications, almost 80% of which were granted within the 13-week time target. This was followed by Westminster, Barnsley, Birmingham, Newcastle and Plymouth. By contrast, Croydon Council in London was found to have granted only 63% of developments – despite its population estimated to have grown by over 10,000 people over the same period.

To encourage greater local support for house-building, across both metropolitan and rural districts, Community Builders recommends:

•        Local authorities should be supported to create hyper-local housing waiting lists, to ensure people in need in the immediate vicinity are prioritised for housing;

•        Community-led groups should have formal, democratic decision-making structures that enable the wider community to participate – such as through community shared schemes;

•        Those groups that have gained support among local residents should become more involved in the planning process, as their visible participation, such as being formally named as the applicant for planning permission, can help to generate active support among residents;

•        The Government should ensure that all community-led schemes are exempted from the extension of Right-to-Buy; and

•        Councils should ensure they have formal policies in place that encourage planning decisions to be made in consideration of the wider benefits of community-led schemes.

Commenting on the report, its author, Charlie Cadywould, said:

“The shortage of affordable housing is one of the biggest problems we face. It’s good to see that the Chancellor is committed to building more homes, with last month’s doubling of the housing budget. However, money is just one side of the equation. We also have to find a place to build all these new homes. At the moment, the Government’s will to get building is rarely matched by local residents who will be most directly impacted by new developments. By engaging local residents, by being democratic and acting as a credible, representative voice, community-led groups can ensure new developments match the needs and desires of local residents, and in doing so turn concern for the community into active support for more local housing.”

Gary Hartin, Programme Manager from the Nationwide Foundation, said:

“The UK faces a serious and growing housing shortage. This is adversely affecting people on lower incomes who are struggling to access decent homes which they can afford, especially when they want to remain living in their local community.  It is our desire for this research to lead to greater confidence from both local and central government in the value and contribution of community-led housing. The report also makes the case for community-led groups to take a more visible role in engaging local communities so that the benefits of housing developments to existing residents are more widely understood and considered.”