Image (c) Rob Young

Winning hearts and minds in favour of well-planned economic and housing growth

Tony Curtis

Sustained economic growth and building enough houses to meet demand are critical to the country’s future. Yet proposals for growth are so often met with fierce local opposition and resultant indecision. Professor Tony Curtis, former Chief Executive of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, and speaker at a recent debate hosted by our Basingstoke team, considers this and what can be done to smooth the way for much needed housing development.

There is a well-documented need for new housing to meet the shortage in supply and lack of affordability in the south but proposals for housing development are frequently met with local opposition. Furthermore, building housing in the greenbelt is opposed in principle, irrespective of the condition of these sites, often placing more pressure on the historic core of our towns and cities. It seems that the negative impact of a lack of housing on communities and families, for example, will our children be able to buy or rent a house, is not considered.

There are a number of factors that play into this; principally no one articulates the benefits of well-planned development. National government could do more to explain the link between housing and economic growth and that homes and jobs are critical to quality of life and wellbeing for both individuals and communities. Housebuilders and developers could do more to explain how their developments can add value to local communities and engage early enough with local communities to understand their needs and concerns and how these might be addressed through new development. Councils must take a leadership role in advocating the benefits of growth and local partners and stakeholders, such as business and business organisations and Local Enterprise Partnerships, need to do more to engage in local debate about the value of development.

There are places that have done well from sustained growth, such as Milton Keynes and Basingstoke. These exemplars of what well-planned development can achieve for quality of life and wellbeing can be cited and used to challenge some of the myths around the purported disadvantages of development.

All these issues were debated at MOLA’s ‘winning hearts and minds’ event in Basingstoke on 15 May. The main takeaway for me was that at all levels- government, business, housebuilders and developers – there is a need to articulate better the benefits of development and to engage early and genuinely with communities about how well-planned growth can improve quality of life and wellbeing. If we are to protect the precious historic environment of our towns and cities we have to ensure that they are not overdeveloped, which means considering development of some greenfield sites and poorer parts of the greenbelt.

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