I was critical of Channel Four’s Great British Property Scandal for obscuring the real housing problem: supply of new homes.
The media, along with the government, the house building industry, local authorities, mortgage lenders all share some blame for this. However, it seems to me more and more that these institutions are the wrong targets.
The biggest barrier to new homes is the public – an awkward and uncomfortable fact for housing campaigners because it’s always easier to blame the government, the media and private companies.
People don’t want new homes to be built anywhere near them. Here’s a quick reminder from a presentation by Ben Page from MORI:
83% of people think there are too few homes for local young people. Only 18% of people believe we need to build more homes (in this case in Essex).
Unless we can convince enough of our fellow citizens that we should build more homes for those who need them and that in doing so we benefit everyone, there will not be the significant change we need.
And at the moment no policy seminars, round-tables, lobbying meetings, think-tank pamphlets show signs of recognising or achieving this.
Could there be a different way forward?
Could the various housing bodies re-orientate their campaigning away from government and policy towards changing minds in communities where new homes could be built? Could the housing charities employ community organisers to run local campaigns and in the process find out what type of development and on what terms people will accept? Could housing associations join them – and perhaps rather than spending quite so much trying to influence political parties, try to influence local communities where they want to build homes?
It would be great to see in the next housing pamphlet produced by a think tank a serious piece of research about how to overcome public opinion against new homes.
The Labour Party too has an important role in doing this.
I read recently that in rural Essex in 1946 the Labour Party conducted a successful campaign among local farmers, labourers and aristocratic landowners convincing them of the advantages of thousands of new homes in a brand new town. Without any legal challenge, a Development Corporation compulsorily purchased 2,588 hectares of Essex countryside and Harlow now houses 80,000 people*.
It can’t be impossible.
*Though it could still do with a good few extra homes to house them all well.