To solve the housing crisis, the property industry must start speaking and engaging more effectively with more people than it currently does. At the heart of this is a clear need to change the UK’s planning system, which is currently far too vulnerable to NIMBY hijacking.
Research in 2019 from Demos and the Nationwide Building Society found that those not currently engaged in the planning process are more likely to support development. This included six-tenths of 18-35-year-olds and renters.
Overall, the study found that half of the public support new homes being built in their local area, compared to a third who oppose it. So why is the planning process often so hostile to new development?
Right now, key planning decisions are made by committees formed of elected councillors. Low turnout in Britain’s local elections means well organised lobby groups like Nimby movements can quickly seize power and influence by mobilising only a small voter base. Many councillors also have little to no understanding or experience of how property development works either.
As a result, many local politicians are elected on explicitly anti-development platforms, meaning delivering new housing or infrastructure is often an up-hill battle.
Ultimately, if we are to fix local planning we must fix local democracy to make it more inclusive and representative. Fundamentally, this means broadening participation.
Holding elections on weekends or making polling day a public holiday – as they do in Israel for example – could help boost turnout and encourage voting across a broader range of people, including those whose views are underrepresented such as the young and renters.
However, if developers want to unlock the secret groundswell of support there is for new housing, they also need to be making the case directly to the public themselves. Part of this will involve moving community engagement from the analogue to the digital age.
Both local authorities and many in the property industry have been slow in adopting new technology to make the planning system relevant to digitally-savvy, time-poor young people or more usable for the physically less able.
Current methods of community involvement in the planning process prevent large chunks of communities from making their voices heard, such as those with childcare commitments, irregular working hours, and accessibility constraints.
In our Radical Regeneration Manifesto, a report from more than 25 leading investors and developers, Nick Jacobs, CEO at Rowan Asset Management, stressed the importance of following a basic rule: “Engage early and often.”
The manifesto calls for a ‘people’s planning lottery’ that brings together a representative sample of each community to rule on proposed developments – similar to juries in the legal system. This would ensure the silent majority that is quietly pro-development but either too busy to engage or being overlooked by the industry, politicians and the media are fairly represented.
Knowing they would have to engage with all levels of the community to secure winning, a ‘people’s planning lottery’ would encourage developers to build what best reflects and suits the local community – a win-win for both sides.