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16/06/2014

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National politicians of all parties are talking about the need to build more homes.

Rachel FisherWe are all familiar with the narrative that runs, “because of decades of under-supply we have now reached a stage where we need to build at least 200,000 homes a year to keep up with demand”.

Since the crash we’ve been building half that, meaning that house prices and rents spiral up and the only solution is to build more homes.

In lower value areas, too, there is a recognition that the housing that exists may be “low demand” because it’s the wrong type or in the wrong place, and so to attract the kinds of businesses and employees they want to generate economic development, they too must build more homes. But too often the rhetoric fails to become reality once an application is presented to a planning committee.

Personally, councillors may want to see more homes, but when faced with a stack of objections from local home owners, they fear for their seats at the next election. This election-focused myopia has also been known to affect MPs as well.

“This election-focused myopia has been known to affect MPs as well”

In theory the NPPF, coupled with neighbourhood planning, should square this circle and get people thinking more strategically about the homes, shops and offices they want in their neighbourhoods.

Two years on, there is definitely some debate about whether neighbourhood plans are having the desired impact. There is a tension between the NPPF’s strong focus on housing delivery, which as the National Housing Federation we support, and the tendency (according to Turley Associates at least) of neighbourhood plans to be anti-growth. We will need to wait and see the impact of the pro-development neighbourhood plans. It’s fair to say that, as anyone who’s ever done community development will know, the timescales are likely to be long.

But there is increasing recognition of house building’s role in economic growth and the importance of having affordable housing. We have also started a national grassroots campaign called Yes to Homes (www.yestohomes.co.uk), enabling people to contact local and national politicians to express concerns about the crisis. It’s a popular campaign with more than 22,000 signatures on our change.org petition, a letter-writing campaign and an active Twitter presence @yestohomes.

We’re hoping that just as a few objectors can scupper a plan, a group of supporters will give councillors the confidence to say “Yes” to applications or the confidence to delegate more decisions to planners. Given the extensive involvement of councillors, communities and stakeholders in agreeing local and neighbourhood plans, can planners not be left to approve schemes that comply with those plans?

Rachel Fisher is head of policy at the National Housing Federation.

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