Philip Barnes – Blog


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LANDBANKING – THE FLAWED PROPOSITION WHICH JUST WON’T GO AWAY

Just like Elvis still being alive, the argument that housebuilders landbank just wont go away.

The corpse twitched again recently, triggered by a report from Shelter (here) and some interesting research from Australia, (here). Both were seized upon by the conspiracy theorists.

The Shelter research was addressed in a series of tweets from Matthew Spry of Lichfields  pointing out the simple realities that :

  • It is inappropriate to compare consents in one year to completions in another. It can often take years to get through the Reserved Matters and pre-commencement conditions process;
  • Large sites may get consented in one year but they certainly don’t get completed in full within the next year;
  • The public sector is sitting on over 100,000 unbuilt consents, demonstrating the delays that everyone faces – nobody’s fault;
  • Lapse rates are a fact of life. Markets, ownerships and landowner aspirations do change. Nevertheless a negligible statistical impact outside of London anyhow.

In terms of the Aussie research, citing this as evidence of UK housebuilders landbanking seems to be a new high in straw clutching.

Firstly the report itself, whilst extremely interesting, is crystal clear that it relates only to an Australian situation based on Australian evidence. Indeed the only UK references are an academic paper from 2009 and the various Government reports all of which have confirmed that UK housebuilders do NOT landbank.

The more relevant, recent and robust UK reports on land pipelines, by Lichfields (here) and CWE Economics (here) are not referenced. Quite understandable as they relate to the UK rather than Australia. Both these reports confirm that consented land pipelines in the UK planning system are actually way too low to deliver 300,000 homes a year. A point recognised by former Housing Minister Kit Malthouse who called for 5m homes to be in the planning system.

Secondly the report addresses relates to a specific and different question, namely have delays in the Aussie planning process caused Australian house prices to be so high? As part of that, the report considers delivery rates and absorption. All good stuff but of little relevance as to whether UK housebuilders landbank.

Thirdly the report seems to assume that an immediate landbank is similar to a strategic landbank. In the UK however they are completely different, with there being absolutely no certainty that the plots within a housebuilder’s strategic landbank will ever be developed, let alone quickly.

The key similarity between an immediate (consented) and strategic landbank is that both are being promoted to a site start as fast as possible by the housebuilder. One has certainty of delivery, the other does not.

The report also addresses a question as to whether, in Australia, land is held back, or sales rates held back, to capitalise upon market gains. Hardly relevant in the UK with our flat or falling house prices. No possibility of Barratt buying land (our biggest investment) and then sitting on it, incurring huge holding costs, in order to sell homes later at the same price or lower!

Ahhh but some have also used the report to argue that housebuilders deliberately slow build rates to protect profit. The reality is that house prices are set by the second hand market prices, which then set the price of land via the residual approach. If Barratt sells at below the assumptions at the time of purchase then obviously we risk making a loss. Therefore, like every retailer of every product in the UK, we motivate our sales teams to sell faster, at the right price, compared to the rest of the market.

One thing is sure, if there are 3 sites and 6 outlets in a local market, new homes will sell faster than if there is one site and one outlet. The impact may be slower and lower prices in the second hand market, but hey, isn’t that what policy is trying to achieve?


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MAKING THE RIGHT HOUSING CHOICES NOT JUST THE EASIEST ONES

So how did a weekend in Alicante trigger a blog on UK housing policy? Well it started with Peter Rees HERE reminding us that the residential tower blocks sprouting up in most of our city centres are likely to be derelict in 80 years’ time.

The next day I felt chuffed on booking a large 7th floor penthouse apartment, nicely presented internally, in a superb Old Town location, for only £45 a night. But with the Peter Rees article ringing in the ears, on arrival the cheap price was explained.

Constructed in the 1970s the common areas of the apartment block were clearly a la mode when built. But the brown marble and dark wood is now hopelessly dated, and despite its great location, the block is half empty with dirty reinforced concrete for its external appearance.

The building has been overtaken by events and technology. It’s fragmented ownership means there is simply no financial mechanism for comprehensive refurbishment. So the plumbing system wasn’t up to C21 expectations, the small dark entrance area was leaking and only one of the two tiny lifts worked. The future for the block is already mapped out – further dilapidation, further capital value falls, increased vacancies, decay and dereliction.

So what is the link to planning in the UK?

Well firstly we won’t even consider whether the apartment, clearly owned by an elderly Dutch couple, goes towards meeting Alicante’s Standardised Objectively Assessed Housing Need!!!

And secondly we won’t mention how similarly bad, outdated office buildings are actually becoming new homes in the UK via Permitted Development and without the need for planning permission!

No, it focused the mind on the fact within many UK city centres the same market forces are in play, right now, as in 1972 Alicante. Namely an investment appetite and political support, to build thousands of small flats, often aimed at overseas buyers. But as Peter Rees confirmed, these luxury flats may look great now, but for sure many will be outdated and obsolete within 80 years, lacking a financial mechanism to refurbish. Especially the ones not even subject to the scrutiny of the planning process.

Many of these proposed new flats are for the private rented sector. Until recently viewed as the tenure of last resort but now the darling of a housing establishment driving for higher housing delivery, irrespective of type, quality, size or tenure.

When these private rented flats are delivered by long established and trusted players like Grainger there is the surety that the quality will be good and the funding will be set aside each year to enable comprehensive refurbishment when needed. But for many others, driven by policy support and international investors, and based on a current yield position, the future is much more worrisome. The Government’s clear desire to remove Ground Rents leaves nobody who actually wants the freehold of the common areas. If left solely to the residents the desire will usually be for minimal service charges and hence no mechanism for the inevitable future capital projects.

And when we at look at the architectural quality of some of these new schemes, either built or proposed, the worries only increase.

But does this even matter?

In London arguably not. Such is the undersupply of new housing against need, that any opportunity to increase supply and reduce pressure on the housing system should perhaps be supported.

But in the North and Midlands it really does matter. For three reasons:

Firstly housing requirements in local plans are being dramatically reduced via SOAN.  So big housing choices need to be made, in terms of what type and tenure of housing should be prioritised to meet need and address a capped housing target. Swallowing up these reduced housing targets, on thousands of ‘luxury’ PRS flats is the wrong choice. Yes, some good quality quality rented homes may provide additional market choice but 86% of people in the UK aspire to own their own home. Planning and funding policy must respond to that.

Research consistently shows that investing in your own home is far better for financial security, stability and mental wellbeing, especially for children in a house with outdoor space. This should be the policy focus, alongside an ambitious social housebuilding programme to address the needs of the weakest and excluded.

Using up the majority of a precious and reducing housing requirement, on a private product aimed solely at 20/30 somethings, is simply storing up further housing shortages. That demographic will soon turn 40, will want a family home of their own, and will find that not enough have been built in the 2020s.  The existing and future difficulties facing generation rent are outlined HERE and the particular risks in the North are outlined HERE.

Secondly, as confirmed by Peter Rees, there is a troubling long term future for many of these new high density flats.

And thirdly it is simply political cowardice. The main reason these blocks are being supported by the planning system is to avoid releasing sites on the urban edge of our great cities, for the housing product which is needed and wanted most – namely the family homes which will better support physical and mental wellbeing.


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LAND VALUE CAPTURE – EMBEDDING INTO THE PLAN LED PROCESS

Busy times in the world of land value capture research. Firstly The Labour Party published ‘Land for the Many’, HERE closely followed by Shelter with ‘Grounds for Change’ HERE.  Both will no doubt be cause for debate amongst planners, landowners, land promoters and housebuilders.

Many of the proposals seem sensible and some should help increase housebuilding and access to housing for lower income households. In particular the ideas for:

  • A major uplift in social housebuilding;
  • The removal of Stamp Duty for main residences;
  • Increased powers for Development Corporations to bring forward housing land;
  • A Public Register of planning permissions.

Both documents also seem to pick up some of the proposals set down in the recent Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee Report Inquiry on Land Value Capture.

My evidence to the CLG Select Committee stressed that housebuilders obviously hate high land prices. But we hate something else more – namely a lack of sites to build on because of landowners deciding not sell their land at artificially low prices. Especially those landowners who control most land.

My evidence focused on a blind spot in the current debate, namely the Plan-Led System introduced in 1991.  In my reading of both the Labour and Shelter documents, the Plan-Led system again seems to have been ignored.

Whilst it is easy to proclaim that Hope Value should be abolished, how does that actually impact on sites allocated (or draft allocated) for housing in a local plan? Namely how can the State actually purchase an allocated housing site at agricultural value and then build out, or re-sell housebuilders, at an uplifted or ‘captured’ value.

In such a scenario the State would be purchasing allocated housing land from Landowner A at a fraction of the price which the open market pays Landowner B for his/her allocated site. As the Planning and Compensation Act tells us, without an allocation a site is not usually considered suitable for housing.

There is obvious reluctance, on fairness ground, for the Courts to accept such a ‘two price’ land market.  The Myers vs Milton Keynes case being an example, alongside others in this useful blog HERE from Richard Harwood OBE QC.

In conversations this week, when this inconvenience was outlined, the discussions then quickly turned to the possibility of a much more extensive use of CPO to unlock land which is allocated, but is not being brought forward due to landowners being unwilling to accept the lower (‘captured’) land value that the State is willing to pay.

Unfortunately this progression conflates two completely separate questions.  Namely:

Question 1.
Should the State be more interventionist in buying land and using CPO where necessary?
Answer 1.
Of course it should. Indeed Homes England and some LAs are already doing this (by consensus and CPO) to unlock important sites, at market value and respecting the Plan-Led system.

Question 2.(completely different)
Does the State have the resource to purchase all the housing sites required to deliver 300,000 homes a year, at lower than market value, irrespective of whether allocated or not?  Thus avoiding a ‘two price’ market.
Answer 2.
Of course it doesn’t. Under-resourced LAs are currently struggling to fulfil their existing responsibilities. It is plainly impossible for the State to impose the additional burden of long, complex and hostile CPO inquiries, on every single piece of housing land needed to build 300,000 homes a year.  Imposing this would inevitably cause the housing delivery system to crash. Every CPO would need to be long and complex as taking someone’s land, at less than market value, must be subject to the highest levels of scrutiny.

So the final question is obviously how should policy makers respond?

  • For me it requires the planning system to ‘right price’ land. In otherwords:
    A much increased supply of allocated and consented housing land. Kit Malthouse’s view that there should be c.5,000,000 plots in the planning system seems about right.  Local Plans need to ‘over-allocate’ in order to create greater land market choices and lower land prices;
  • LAs, landowners and housebuilders must work much closer together to ensure that the planning policies for each site temper excessive land values. This can be achieved by designing local policies that ensure both (a) the community can benefit from a truly sustainable development, and (b) that landowners are incentivised to both promote and sell their land for housing.

Of course another option would be for the State to purchase huge tranches of unallocated land, sufficient for 300,000 homes per year, at its current agricultural value. Then ‘fix’ the local plan process everywhere to ensure that only the State’s land gets allocated.

This is also completely unrealistic. Both in terms of LA resources, and also the inconvenience of flying in the face of two concepts embedded in the Plan Led System. Namely planning logic and fairness.

 


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BUILDING BETTER BUILDING BEAUTIFUL

It was great to speak at the Building Better Building Beautiful conference in Birmingham last week. The packed agenda ensured over 400 delegates and a huge number of interesting issues were raised. Superb day and cap tip to MHCLG.

As a housebuilder it slightly felt like being in the away end but there was huge value for Barratt to take away.

First and foremost was the commitment of Homes England to drive out Building for Life 12 as the means to help consider design when the public sector is selling sites or determining planning permission. There is a commercial interest here as Barratt has been using BfL12 for several years. In fact, despite being only c.8% of new homes built we have won more BfL12 design awards than the rest of the sector put together.

As with every design conference the walls and videos were adorned with exemplar housing schemes, many of which were in London. Indeed three of ours were showcased at Cane Hill, Derwenthorpe and Hanham Hall. But my pitch to delegates was that whilst every development needs to be good, not every scheme needs to be exemplar. Indeed how could they when two of the sessions focussed on how to drive up build rates via MMC and standardisation.

Effective local plan policies and/or masterplans, plus a capable housebuilder can deliver good design on every single site, especially if BfL12 is deployed effectively. But if you want an exemplar scheme you also need a committed, willing landowner as well. If a landowner (or the agent or land promoter) is solely interested in maximising land price, then the land market process will likely prevent exemplar being delivered. No matter how good the housebuilder or the LA.

Every site deserves good design but does every one require exemplar? No period of history has delivered exemplar on every site, and especially not when there has been a need to much increase the production of new homes.

Barratt agrees with George Clark who told the conference that if MMC is seen solely as the route to reduce costs then we have a problem. If MMC increases quality, increases speed and reduces costs as well then we have a solution.

For Barratt good design is more about culture than policies or standards. We believe that good design will help sell our product and contribute to customer satisfaction. As such we invest the time and the effort required to achieve BfL12. The culture starts at the top and permeates downwards. Driven always by our customers – the people who pay our salaries. The people who want our MMC homes (20% of volume) to look like our traditional built ones.

Standard house types came in for the usual panning all day. But Barratt has over 100 house types, all architect designed and with variants to cover modern, Victorian, Edwardian, rural and suburban sites. Many of the UK’s favourite places were built via standard house types and lazy stereotyping is perhaps unhelpful. Some of our poorer schemes have been where unqualified LA officers have interfered with our classically proportioned and architect designed elevations.

And when you are building 17,600 homes a year, reducing mistakes leads to happier customers. Forcing complicated unfamiliar designs, on our workforce, tends to lead to more mistakes, slower build and reputational risk.

Much was said about stewardship throughout the day. No one is going to disagree with the benefits of stewardship when looking at Letchworth or Welwyn. But stewardship (whatever that actually means) must not be regarded as a straight line to good placemaking. There are many public sector built estates which show there is no direct correlation.

The best people to steward a placed are the residents. There are no stewardship organisations in Gosforth or Otley but they are wonderful well managed residential areas. Yes, for new build, a residents management charge to maintain open spaces, will usually be required due to LA cuts. But the idea that stewardship trumps the creation of a design that residents love is folly in my view. Not that anyone said that!

And the best quote of the day was from Paul Watson, former Director for Development at Solihull MBC. Paul reminded us that quality is different from beauty. Something can be loved, cherished, full of character and extremely attractive, without being considered beautiful by anyone. Poor quality is never loved.


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WHAT MIGHT 2019 HOLD? A HOUSEBUILDER PERSPECTIVE

Some quick personal thoughts on the key trends likely to impact on housebuilders and housebuilding in 2019, in terms of:

  • Volume
  • Prices
  • Planning
  • Modern methods of construction
  • Design
  • Social housing
  • Private market housing by housing associations

Volume

As always, the key to higher delivery will be both more active smaller builders and more units from the major builders. Conditions for smaller builders are now better, not least more funding (and other) assistance from Homes England. Plus a policy focus on greater diversity to accelerate supply, via more sites for smaller builders and more builders on larger sites.

In 2019 we can expect more Homes England activity, and the Government response to the Letwin Review. Both should lead to more small housebuilders forming, securing funding and expanding.

For volume builders the key factors will be sales rates and detailed planning consents. A positive Brexit should lead to a strengthening of consumer confidence thus driving sales in the run up to the H2B changes. However, if sites don’t come through as builders have planned, either due to a local plan hold-ups, or delays to applications and planning conditions, it will be difficult to achieve planned growth. Especially as the flow of off-plan sites is likely to slow given the NPPF2 emphasis on the primacy of the development plan.

In contrast, if the NPPF2 emphasis on simplifying the planning system really bites then the leading builders will respond with faster delivery and more homes.

Prices

Will obviously leave it to the agency experts to make the price predictions, but suffice to say that we at Barratt are optimistic that prices should remain stable, barring a catastrophic Brexit. We don’t demur from the recent 2-4% predictions coming out of the leading lenders and agents. We do expect regional variations, as always.

The marketing and sale of a new home is the end of a long road from land acquisition, planning and build. A stable pricing outlook, for new home sales, will be important to volume builders maintaining their appetite for land investment and growth.

Planning

NPPF2 is a positive with both the new Standard Method and the Housing Delivery Test hopefully driving out more homes where they are needed most. They should also help accelerate local plan production which is so critical to delivering volume growth.

But whilst national policy is positive builders are increasingly frustrated by local process delays.

It feels like Government is thankfully spending more than ever on housing but the inability of this money to be translated into better resourced LA planning departments remains a mystery. When it comes to providing new homes for families, decisions delayed means homes denied.

In just three of our 27 divisions, we have seen 21 sites removed from draft plans in recent months, resulting in the loss of 500 homes per year. 20% of these were to be affordable homes for families in need.

Design

NPPF2 in July emphasised design quality and recommended LAs to use Building for Life 12 (BfL12) as an objective yardstick for considering schemes. Good news for Barratt as we apply it on every site.

2019 will see further emphasis on design not least via the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and new Homes England guidance relating to site disposals.

At Barratt we hope the focus will be on quality and placemaking rather than specification. Some of our poorer looking schemes result from over zealous urban design officers requiring jarring embellishments to our homes.

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)

Barratt is committed to driving out MMC and is on target to hit our 20% by 2020 objective. Our MMC homes will look, feel and perform like a traditionally built Barratt home, in line with customer expectations.

In 2018 there has been too many new MMC homes being launched which are not up to the required design standard. They simply won’t get planning permission when proposed en masse, given the new design emphasis in NPPF2.

Faster build and less use of tradesmen must not be seen to to justify badly designed faddish homes, no matter how innovative they purport to be. There seems to increasing concerns about this and hopefully this will continue through 2019.

Social Housing

Hopefully 2019 marks the start of renaissance of a social housebuilding and the recent Shelter report promulgating the building of 3.1m more social new homes over 20 years should help.

Barratt has some fantastic relationships with a range of housing associations and stands ready to enter more partnerships which can open up more land and deliver more great places. As an example our JV with Places for People, at Brooklands, in Milton Keynes will continue through 2019 as a real social, design, and commercial success.

The overriding aim must be to build more inexpensive homes, irrespective of type, and it is hoped that 2019 is not characterised by battles between tenures.

Market housing by housing associations (HA’s)

When looking at HA competitors, it perhaps feels like 2016 was the “give us money” year, and 2018 was the “give us land” year. Clearly a simplistic personal external viewpoint! But buying land at a price which will help ensure a profit on the completed private home, is both tough and not for the faint hearted.

My view is that there should be no special pleading if housing associations are to compete head on with housebuilders in the fiercely competive and high risk speculative housing land market.

Yes, our build costs may be lower and our marketing resources greater, but that results from many years of taking risks and learning lessons. It doesn’t, in our opinion, provide a reason for the state to subsidise one part of the private market in relation to access to land. Especially as some HAs have already mastered the art.

Instead there perhaps seems to be great potential for housebuilders and HAs to work together more. The housing association skills in community engagement and social purpose could be of real synergy to our market-led build and sales efficiencies.

All in all 2019 looks to be a really exciting and interesting one for the sector. Obviously all predicated on the assumption of a reasonably sensible Brexit outcome. Fingers and toes crossed!

Personal views etc.


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FINANCIALISATION OF HOUSING

So recently I have been reading that:

  • The TCPA is reporting that affordable housing delivery is often harder in lower income northern areas, which entirely reflects Barratt’s experience;
  • UK now has the lowest levels of owner occupation in the EU, except for Germany, where there was an even greater imperative to build lots of post war rented housing;
  • The housing market would work better if we removed the ‘political preference’ towards owner occupation and abolished the ‘financialisation’ of housing.

Any reading of democracy would say that in a country where 86% of people want to own their own home, the so called ‘political preference’ is simply our elected leaders responding to what people want. Indeed, given the much higher rates of owner occupation across Europe there is an argument they aren’t doing it very well.

Not really sure what the financialisation of housing actually means. However, in a country where even new affordable homes are often built and paid for by private house builders, housing delivery can’t be de-financialised. If the vast majority of people want to own their home, and there are funders and builders willing to build them, there doesn’t seem much political logic in not supporting that. Especially if it is also a primary source of affordable housing.

Whether we like it or not, the aspiration for the security of home ownership is deeply ingrained, wherever in the world it is realistically available.

One area where financialisation is successfully encouraging new housing provision is the growth of private rented new build. The so called ‘wall of money’ is now driving out large numbers of city centre apartments. Perhaps the question is whether this supply/demand is being driven by the availability of funding, or the the lack of an affordable home ownership product which many people might prefer. Or perhaps a combination of both alongside a more footloose labour supply. One thing is sure, some of the recent PRS completions, (absolutely by no means all, and especially via PD) are the slums of the future.

Recent reading has also perhaps highlighted the increasing number of reports by a London centred commentariat, about a London centred housing problem but then claiming to present national solutions.

The reality is very different housing challenges between North and South, and the need for different ideas for both. Perhaps (dare we say) even a national, spatially based, housing strategy.

A national strategy which recognises that:

In the South:

  • There are way too few homes, of all tenures. Rising occupancy rates, significant population growth and affordability issues prove this;
  • Slum clearance, and ongoing gentrification and regeneration schemes have improved the quality of the stock, albeit not everywhere;
  • The massive housebuilding activity in the 1930’s, and the New Towns programme from the 50’s, has bestowed a legacy of relatively spacious owner occupier housing within reach of the capital.

Whereas in the North:

  • There remains huge quantities of poor quality homes, both public and private, unsuitable for today’s housing aspirations;
  • High proportions of rented homes, both social and PRS, especially within the core cities;
  • There wasn’t the same extent of 1930’s private build, so a much lower proportion of spacious housing with gardens that many families still want, within easy reach of the key employment centres.

In otherwords, a national strategy which recognises that the need for many more new owner occupier homes is perhaps as important in the North as it is in the South, albeit for slightly different reasons. Asking the North to become as economically successful as the South, but with a much poorer housing stock within reach of the city centres won’t work.

And not sure that the focus on delivering huge numbers of extra high density rented homes in the North is necessarily the right approach, unless of course the political imperative is simply to avoid any housebuilding in any locations where the ‘I was here first’ brigade may object.

And the current travails with SOAN are not adding to confidence in this regard.


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WE WERE HERE FIRST

Holiday reading has revealed fascinating differences (and similarities) between UK and US nimbyism. The two sources were:

  • Research by UCLA revealing the true reasons why US nimbys dislike developers and development;
  • The superb book, ‘Snob Zones’ by New York Times journalist Lisa Prevost. It describes the uglier side of localism in some of the quaint towns of New England.

This post looks as those sources and draws conclusions on the lessons and potential implications for the UK.

Opposition to development or opposition to developers? (UCLA, Feb 2018)

In a nutshell this research concludes that the key reason local residents don’t like development is because developers make a profit. And lurking beneath it says there is also a “resentment of new people who might be a different racial or income group”.

Other key points in the report were:

  • In the US there is a long established negative cultural perception of developers as greedy or rapacious. Think; Its a Wonderful Life, or even Donald Trump. And more examples HERE ;
  • In a controlled experiment, resident opposition to a development doubled when the group were told that the developers would be making a large profit;
  • A vicious circle gets created whereby (a) development is unpopular, (b) zoning gets stricter, (c) development therefore gets riskier, (d) developers who are able to take on the risks make larger profits and (e) development becomes even more unpopular (see diagram, below);
  • The cycle is exacerbated as successful developers in strict zoning areas need deep pockets and a confrontational mindset. That mindset engenders the obvious counterpoise from residents;
  • The biggest financial beneficiaries of anti-development zoning are existing homeowners who are then able to behave as a highly effective cartel;
  • Despite the findings of the survey-framed experiment, the research found that nimbys disguise the true underlying reasons for opposition, “even from themselves”;
  • Whilst concerns over fairness may drive the anti-development mindset the researchers were not clear who actually benefits (or doesn’t benefit) from the supposed fairness created by preventing new homes.

The paper notes that, surprisingly, in a country where nearly everyone lives in a home built by a developer, the instinct in many areas is to punish the producer of that home.

Snob Zones, Lisa Prevost

This searing insight looks at a number of New England towns, and argues that, in some areas, the American dream of of “opportunity for all” appears to have been replaced by, “every town for itself”.

Prevost argues that localism is leading to shortfalls of housing, ageing towns, rising prices and hugely increased disparities and inequalities.

The book describes in captivating detail:

  • The upmarket Connecticut town where the zoning commission has ensured there isn’t a single apartment building or condominium in the town;
  • The town in Massachusetts where a small development of 4 ‘cottage apartments’, proposed in full accordance with the State policy to support lower income households, was rebuffed and rebuffed until the developer went bust;
  • The town in Maine where an affordable housing scheme by a local non-profit organisation was stalled by the zoning commission until the State funding ran out. Luckily the scheme got built and was actually accepted as successful by residents;
  • And another town in Connecticut where legal action by the State was necessary to overcome exclusionary practices by local officials.

Prevost concludes that the baby boomer generation is driving the opposition to development. Perhaps even without realising that encouraging more McMansions, whilst opposing more smaller homes, is increasingly out of step with younger aspirations. And therefore more likely to devalue their house.

Lessons for the UK

The first lesson is the pride we must take in the UK planning system. Generally transparent, accountable, rooted in a meaningful democratic process and free from malign influence. Talking to Barratt old timers, about the time when we had French, Spanish and US businesses, that is not something to take for granted.

And secondly, that however frustrating some UK nimbys are, we developers need to work harder to build trust and respect for our product.  Especially as perceptions of the sector are perhaps less negative as in the US.

Houses are becoming both scarcer and more financially important to their owners. We need to understand that and perhaps message to local residents on these concerns rather than just about the tilted balance or traffic congestion. And, however difficult, recognise that being confrontational in a confrontational process often doesn’t end well.

But if the US does precede UK trends and cultures then Snob Zones does not paint an attractive housing future. It foretells of increasing societal separation and greater polarisation between perceptions of conservation and new development. Watching UK suburban Council leaders proclaiming a need for less housing within 24 hours of new lower household projections isn’t grounds for optimism.

The possible rise of an “I was here first” mentality, focused on certain age and income groups, pulling up a ladder they were pleased to climb up themselves. Perhaps we need more granular research on the drivers and nature of localism and nimbyism in the UK.

Developers, planners, politicians, and others, with influence in addressing the housing crisis perhaps need to step up. An approach which restricts aspiration and access to capital appears only likely to store up trouble. Especially as the UK public debate appears to be moving away from the shortage of homes and more towards the profits of landowners.

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