What can individuals in communities do to improve local housing choices?
I like to have a little project or problem to ponder over the Christmas and New Year break, and exploring options for local action on housing has bubbled to the surface as this year’s problem of choice.
Except that it is not a little problem. The numbers are stark. It is estimated that we should be building an average of about 240,000 to 245,000 new homes each year until 2031 to keep up with housing requirements as the population grows, patterns of demand change and old properties need replacement ((TCPA press release, Census 2011 highlights hopelessly inadequate housing supply and affordability crisis, 10 September 2013 http://www.tcpa.org.uk/resources.php?action=resource&id=1160 Accessed 27/12/13)). But we’re not building nearly enough, and haven’t been for a long time. In 2011/12 a total of 118,190 new build dwellings were completed in England, more than 100,000 fewer than required. Although numbers are growing gradually, the total for 2011/12 was 9% more than the previous year, they are still 31% less than the peak in 2007/08. ((House of Commons Library, Planning for Housing, 11 December 2013 http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03741/planning-for-housing Accessed 27/12/13)).
Partly because of the limited supply of new houses, house prices have almost doubled in a decade. At the same time average salaries have risen by less than a half ((The Guardian, House prices almost double in a decade, 31 January 2011 http://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2011/jan/31/house-prices-doubled-decade Accessed 27/12/13)), and it looks like house prices may be about to take off again ((The Guardian, House prices expected to rise 8% in 2014, 26 December 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/dec/26/uk-house-prices-expected-rise-2014 Accessed 27/12/13)). Pressures are also reflected in rising prices in the private rented sector and waiting lists for social housing have increased by 81% since 1997 ((Shelter, Why is Shelter talking about not being able to own a home? http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/building\_more\_affordable\_homes/a\_home\_of\_their\_own/why\_are\_we\_campaigning Accessed 27/12/13)).
To cap it all, what does get built is too often not very good ((CABE Housing Audit results, 2005 – 2007, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110118095356/http://www.cabe.org.uk/housing/audit-results Accessed 27/12/13)) which perhaps goes some way to explaining why existing communities can be resistant to the idea of new housing development.
But maybe it is not all doom and gloom. In the Localism Act 2011 ((http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/20/contents/enacted Accessed 27/12/13)), the Coalition Government has given ‘significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live’ ((A plain English guide to the Localism Act, CLG, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment\_data/file/5959/1896534.pdf Accessed 27/12/13)). Apart from abolishing national and regional housing targets, these include introducing neighbourhood plans and the creation of a community right to build. Is this a genuine opportunity for local communities to encourage and influence housing development that will enhance their neighbourhood or a NIMBY’s ((Not in my back yard)) charter? If it is the former, what can local communities actually do to promote, or even initiate, appropriate, well designed housing development?
This is the question that interests me and which I want to explore in the next few posts.
Why am I interested? The immediate motivation is the need to think about housing for an event that the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, NANM, is organising for residents of Big Local areas with a shared interest in housing (as part of NANM’s role in supporting networking and learning across Big Local areas). But I also think it is a fascinating, and enormously important, challenge. Ripe for some innovation. And a challenge that I’d really like to find a way to get involved with addressing (not least because I currently rent in London). So the plan is to do a bit of research and write up what I find in a series of short blog posts. That is my statement of intent. Writing up what I find as blog posts gives me a chance to find out what it is like to write a blog, but also, in the back of my mind, is the thought that in making them public I might be able to use them to pick other people’s brains. We’ll see. And despite the allusion in the title, no promise of pearls.
Image: Courtesy of YST (Kryptos5) http://www.flickr.com/photos/kryptos5/