We should be more worried about politicians' obsession with design than with Roger Scruton's unsuitable views

Controversy has been swirling in recent weeks around the appointment of Roger Scruton as the Government’s new housing design guru, mainly focusing on the question of whether his previous comments on homosexuality and minorities rendered him unfit to hold a government-sponsored position.  What I felt was more interesting, was the Government wheeling out its regular idea that design is the key reason people do or don’t support new housing, and that if only we could build more beautiful houses then NIMBYism would die a peaceful death.


I believe this faith in design is both misplaced and incredibly patronising.  Misplaced because true NIMBYs will always find a reason to oppose development – if it’s not design it’s something else.  The way around that is to spend more time and effort speaking to the many supporters who don’t engage in the process in the first place.  It’s patronising because invariably a well-to-do politician (such as former law firm partner Brokenshire), living in a beautiful terraced house in south London decides that because he doesn’t like the look of traditional volume-build homes, that no one else will.  But people really like what the Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Linden and Redrows of this world build – that’s why they buy them and the builders keep building them!  It’s a huge political error to assume that because you think X, everyone else thinks X, and I’m always amazed at how many politicians don’t realise how out of touch this line makes them seem.


NIMBYism arises because people don’t like change and they are encouraged in their views by the perception that (like politicians) everyone else agrees with them and by a wider popular culture which has traditionally defended their view (how often on TV do we see ‘evil’ property developers doing battle against courageous opponents?).  That culture is changing as we start to see the effects of decades of insufficient housing delivery.  How refreshing it would be then, to find a politician who can think outside the box and maybe appoint someone to look at how we can work harder to engage supporters for development, rather than lazily playing to their base and encouraging NIMBYs to keep using design as a fig leaf for their opposition to much needed new homes.”

Anna Sabine-Newlyn, CEO