24 September 2021

Better arguments are key to building more houses

By Wyatt Getty

The housing debate can often feel like a lose-lose argument.

On the one hand you have the NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard), who support building more houses in principal – just not near where they live. They are a loud bunch, regular participants in the local planning process and enthusiastic correspondents with their local councillors and MPs. Conservatives fear foisting more homes upon them in case they lose them as voters.

Yet, on the other side of the coin, young people are struggling to get on the housing ladder. Homeownership has become so difficult for the younger generation that three-quarters of those who would like to purchase a home in the next five years say they cannot afford to. For Conservatives, this means they run the risk of not replenishing their voter base as more and more people are simply locked out of home ownership.

Perhaps because it’s seen as such a double edged sword, six Secretaries of State over the past six years have failed to get to grips with house building. But new research from C|T Local and the Adam Smith Institute into the true opinions and motivations of the UK electorate on house building paints a more nuanced picture.

For instance, more than two thirds of residents (68%) would back more homes in their area if it meant their local services would improve. Around three quarters of residents (71%) say that they would back building more homes locally if residents had the power to agree to it when they were confident it would benefit their community. Developers currently contribute towards a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and a Section 106 (S106) payment during the planning process and building new homes. If politicians and developers were able to provide more certainty on how this funding is delivered to communities, specifically earmarking percentages of it for existing neighbourhoods near the development, residents would be more willing to support house building near them.

Having a frank discussion about the Green Belt will also go a long way to clearing up many misconceptions. Two-thirds of voters (66%) do not understand what the Green Belt actually is, giving either an incorrect view (52%) or being simply unable to say (14%). The Green Belt should be more accurately named the ‘Urban Containment Belt’. Its purpose is to keep towns and villages from creeping ever closer to one another. However, by using the term Green Belt, it gives the impression that these areas are lush nature reserves full of endangered species that need our protection, when often it is made up of low grade, unused and unmaintained patches of land.

While these figures are only part of the picture, the research provides a roadmap for how the Conservatives can define the debate on delivering more homes around the benefits that building up communities brings, rather than on homebuilding in itself.

The research shows that there are clear and persuasive arguments to be made in favour of more housebuilding in the UK, but the current narrative is not cutting through to those who are open to be persuaded. An updated commitment to building more homes can attract all types of voters, from young to old, homeowners to renters. If the Conservative party can provide a compelling argument to support the delivery of more housing, they stand to transform the lives of millions who are struggling to get on the housing ladder.

It is time for the Tories to seize the opportunity, and give the public a compelling reason to support the building of more homes across the UK.

Many years ago, a Conservative Prime Minister was bold enough to transform the housing market in a way that benefited millions, fundamentally reshaping British politics, creating a generation of Tory voters that cemented the party’s hold on political power for decades. The current Government should take a lesson or two out of her book.

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Wyatt Getty is Senior Manager at C|T Local - he is an infrastructure and real estate strategist with expertise in communications and campaigning.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.