Think tank the Centre for London says opposition to development can be largely overcome, if those in the development process take a few straightforward steps.
In a research document sponsored by housebuilder Barratt, the organisation has mapped out the main reasons for opposition to development, and worked out how they can be best addressed. And, as it notes, opposition costs the capital and the country dear, holding up housing developments or at the very least, often adding to costs and delays.
The report comes up with seven key reasons why local residents oppose housing developments in their area. These are: worries that local services will come under pressure; a decline in trust between residents, developers and local boroughs; dilution of local identity as outsiders move in; a change of character in an area; hijacking of debates to suit other agendas; a feeling of powerlessness; and the fear of interruption from construction activity.
Notes the report: “On their own, common solutions such as consultation, neighbourhood planning, incentives, and Community Land Trusts are incapable of dealing with these objections.” It argues for a more finessed, mixed set of strategies to reduce opposition, which when correctly applied will practically reduce levels of opposition to many new housing developments.
The authors say that being personal, and being proactive, are strategies that can have a major impact. Good consultation usually reduces opposition, while those projects that have an upgrade of supporting infrastructure ahead of their implementation, also generally work better.
Local politicians also need to show greater leadership, suggests the report. But, in a world where they need to be liked, playing the bad cop for the greater good can sometimes be a hard path to tread, when it leads to short term unpopularity.
Quality of design is often an issue, says the report, recommending: “Given the importance of this issue for delivering on London’s housing needs we recommend a programme of town hall seminars bringing together architects, urban designers, councillors and council officers to explore how the quality of high-density developments can be improved.” Inviting residents will also help improve buy-in.
Further incentives and sweeteners are of limited benefit, concludes the report. In any case, CIL and section 106 already provide routes for local funding, but they cannot feed through to centrally provided services such as health facilities.
Done well, say the authors, neighbourhood planning can help in many cases: “Neighbourhood planning goes a step further in allowing local communities to set the framework for the evolution
of their neighbourhood, as part of the formal process of developing local plans. This addresses the same set of concerns as consultation but, by formally redistributing power, arguably does so in a more powerful way.”
One other option, using Community Land Trusts, does have merits but will only ever have a small impact. However, this niche route can help ensure local people get preference when new homes are allocated.
LPA Perspective: A regular visitor to planning meetings, or reader of application comments, would not be surprised to see the summary of objections in this report.
What cannot, however, be so readily viewed, is the hard work put in by those who are good at the tasks of local consultation, and listening. It’s hidden behind those schemes that come to planning committees with little or no opposition voiced. And the developers that invest in using consultants to help them up front, know that the investment they make pays off, when projects get planning approval and can proceed free from hold-ups and hassle.
Anyone who is planning a development project, would do well to read the report, and take heed of some of its recommendations.