Britain desperately needs to build more homes. A recent YouGov poll found that 81% of Britons accepted this. The problem is that they don’t want them built in their own neighbourhoods.
Tackling this dilemma is the single biggest challenge facing the development industry. The last Government’s attempt to impose top-down housing targets only brought resentment and public anger.
The Coalition Government is pinning its hopes on the New Home Bonus. It believes that by giving local councils’ financial incentives to support development, communities will come round to the idea. Asked what Plan B is if it fails, one minister replied that they will simply increase the Bonus.
I’m a big supporter of the New Homes Bonus. I have seen at first hand schemes approved that would have definitely been thrown out under the old regime. But I have also seen its drawbacks.
About six months ago, I was brought in by a developer just two weeks before committee. The scheme was recommended for approval by officers but had generated over 1,800 objections. Ordinarily, the application would have had no chance. However, the site was located in an opposition held ward and the New Homes Bonus brought the council the promise of a £7.5m windfall. Despite there being 400 objectors packed into the public gallery, the councillors from the ruling group voted it through.
I was so impressed at the power of incentives, that it became a central feature of the next consultation I ran. We asked the public how they would want the New Homes Bonus spent? But far from winning people over, it triggered the accusation that we were trying to buy and bribe our planning permission.
This could become the New Homes Bonus’ Achilles heel. In using the incentives’ package to justify development, councils will antagonise local resident groups. Far from winning over community support, it will provoke further cynicism about the planning process.
In three years’ time, it might be Labour that is hoovering up the NIMBY vote by promising to abolish the hated New Homes Bribe.
What do you think? Will the New Homes Bonus help build more homes? Will it help win over local communities to the need for more housebuilding? Or will it be seen by the public as an unacceptable bribe?
Wyn Evans is the Founding Director of Forty Shillings.