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Housing plans – Nimbies at work? Matthew Warburton - 15/02/2013

building_300Scrapping regional spatial strategies and targets for new home construction was a key element of the Coalition Government's Localism policy. Critics predicted that, left to themselves, councils would not plan for enough homes to meet likely housing need.

And so it has proved to be. Councils have until April to publish local plans. Based on those which have appeared so far, it has been reported in Inside Housing, councils seem likely to plan for 183,000 new homes compared with the 212,500 needed to meet the government's projection of household numbers.

There are no prizes for predicting how this news will be received - councils will almost certainly be berated for pandering to local Nimbyism and favouring the interests of existing residents, who have local votes, over those of future households who don't, at least not yet.

Other research also published this week suggests that the factors behind these figures may be a little more complex. Property consultants GVA published a report identifying 40 urban extension and new settlement schemes in the South and South East with potential to provide 250,000 new homes.

Planning issues and political opposition are factors helping to obstruct progress on these schemes, but they are not as important, found GVA, as local housing market problems and lack of infrastructure funding.

When local residents take up against local development their motivation is often assumed to be a simple resistance to change and refusal to consider the housing needs of others. However, opposition can often be much more rationally founded on concerns that additional homes are planned without adequate plans or provision for the impact on local schools, health services and infrastructure.

Without an effective strategy for financing infrastructure investment and service development, councils are on the horns of a dilemma. Either they plan for the homes that are needed and risk allowing the construction of more than the local infrastructure can bear, or they cut their cloth to suit their means, and allow for fewer homes than are needed.

The government, as it was responsible for scrapping regional plans, may find it a little uncomfortable to blame councils for not planning for enough homes. It means admitting either that they were wrong about the implications of abolition, or didn't care.

A more useful response would be to look for better ways of making sure that new homes, wherever they are provided, come with the infrastructure and service investment that must go with them

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