Government must turn to architects to win over NIMBY housing lobby
The NIMBYs have won, at least for the moment. With its rejection of the ODPM's proposals for elevated levels of new housing, the South East England Regional Assembly has, at the very least, slowed down the process. This odd body - mostly made up of people in elected positions, but itself unelected - has held up two fingers to the government's plans. The ringleader, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart from Kent, has made the most telling argument in saying: 'What is the point of moving more and more people into an already overcrowded South East?' The point, of course, is that he has missed the point. Nobody is moving anybody; people are going to gowhere they want to be, at least if they can afford to do so.
What this clamping down on housing growth will mean is continuing escalation in housing prices, with many essential workers priced out of the market. This is not a desirable scenario, not only for the low paid but also for parents who are wondering where their children will be able to afford to live. Why then, when there is so much pressure on housing, is SEERA being intransigent?
The reason, as ever, is fear. When people start explaining that their housing provision is catering for local needs, one always suspects that an unspoken reason for resistance is the unsavoury one of not wanting to house more immigrants.
But there are other, legitimate, reasons for worry.
Several studies in the past few weeks have shown that inadequate consideration has been given to the knockon effect of intensive housing growth on infrastructure, such as transport and water supply. And there is also the impact of the development itself. When so much new housing is still banal and land hungry, who would not fight to minimise the quantity, to hang on to as much green space as possible? Architects - some architects at least - know it does not have to be like that. Government may well get its way in the end, but if it is to do so by persuasion, rather than imposition, it will have to call on the profession for help - and so will the housebuilders.
Otherwise, government may come to regret deeply its experiment with local autonomy.