Philip Barnes – Blog

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Winning people over

In the last 50 years arguing in the case favour of new homes has felt like warfare. And asymetric warfare at that.

Firstly we know our politicians consistently argue passionately for more homes in Parliament and at party conferences. But locally, MPs, Mayors, and Councillors routinely run for election on a ticket of stopping housing development. The most recent edition of Northumberland News proclaims successes in stopping housing development and removing cycle lanes.

And secondly local and national media traditionally find it easy to find column inches and airtime for the press releases produced by local housing objectors. But its much harder to find the local people who will speak up in favour of new housing in order to present a balanced story. No wonder much needed new homes, in line with local and national policy, are often presented as local people being the victims of a harmful pollution imposed from above.

Classic ‘good’ vs evil’ territory.

But things are changing and the reason is social media.

Nobody in the pub had heard of Priced Out three years ago. Now some people have. Priced Out consistently present strong and persuasive messages on the importance of more housing and any journalist worth their salt can easily find them to balance up an anti-housing story.

Yimby groups are popping up across the UK. Usually where they are most needed. London Yimby, Oxford Yimby, Cambridge Yimby, even Yorkshire YIMBY are on Twitter and Facebook.

Pubgoers still don’t know about the Yimby groups yet. But they will do in two/three years time. These grass roots groups are local and do fantastic work in promoting the harms of housing undersupply, the benefits of new affordable housing, and countering objections.

Social media is their weapon of choice because its popular with the demographic hardest hit by the housing crisis. And importantly, they often provide an easy-to-find voice for mainstream media looking for a counterweight to the anti-development voices.

Changes in social media now mean that even housebuilders can use social media positively. We can broaden our messaging to include local people who are more likely to support our proposals rather than just those who happen to live right next to the site. We can elicit views from recent customers who have recently experienced the positive life-change of moving into their new home.

And we can more easily notify potential customers who we know are looking for a new modern home and may be willing to support our scheme. Whilst social media is still a risky game, long gone are the days when housebuilders considered it as something to be avoided at all costs.

One thing is for sure. Unless communities and politicians feel that that there is a local democratic case in favour of new homes we will struggle. We need to step up.

Mark my words – Yimby will be widely understand in the pubs of the UK soon.

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Last week I spoke at the New Politics of Housing event organised by Policy Exchange.

The introduction confirmed that the housing crisis is the most important social justice issue facing the UK and the speakers came with different ideas for solutions.

Terrie Alafat (CEO at the Chartered Institute of Housing) and John Godfrey (Former Head of Policy at Number 10), argued for more investment in social housing with Terrie also focussing on the need to focus on, and quantify, the social value of social housing.

I focused on the importance on addressing the rapid decline in home ownership, pointing out that France now has higher home ownership than the UK. France has grown home ownership from 60% to 64% over recent years whilst the UK has presided over a fall from 71% to 63%. I deployed the quote from Nick Boles that, “no aspiration is more deeply embedded in the British psyche than the desire to own ones own home” and noted that French housing supply is now c350,000 per year.

Fraser Nelson’s speech was particularly interesting in arguing that Quantative Easing has been a key cause of high housing price rises in London. Indeed Fraser argued that outside London there was no housing affordability crisis due to the affordability created by low interest rates and lower house prices.

The QE arguments were persuasive, and John Godfrey agreed. Put simply, UK Government has now spent over $600bn buying gilts and bonds with the aim of encouraging spending in the economy. It did.

The ‘extra money’ and spending naturally pushed up gilt prices and drove more investment away from gilts into other parts of the economy. As intended. With interest rates so low the property market was obviously a natural home for such extra money. Especially as the extra liquidity encouraged more lenders to re-enter the housing and property market.

We at Barratt know, as well as anyone, that mortgage availability is thankfully good at present.

We all know that QE started in 2009, stopped in 2012, and was resurrected in 2016. Experts appear less sure of the extent to which it has boosted property as an asset class and if/when the effects on the London housing market will unwind.