Falling down the rabbit hole

As a newcomer to the housing and planning industry, there’s no surprise that I have more questions than answers. My experience thus far can be paralleled to that of an exhilarating immersion program where I not only have to assimilate to the culture, but also learn the complex language of planning. In my quest to learn more about the industry, I tangled myself in a labyrinth of conflicting debate by simply asking ‘Housing crisis: how, what, where and when?’

Much of the discussion appears to suggest both the complicity and the victimisation of the millennial generation. However, underlying factors indicate that millennials are both a side-effect and a scapegoat to a deep-set issue governed by a lack of policy coherence and societal complacency. Similar to climate change, the housing crisis presents itself as a disaster foretold but ignored.

Without going too much into the debate, I identified what appears to be a paradox within the UK’s planning system which dates back to the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. The legislation encompassed urban containment through ‘green belts’ and a lack of fiscal incentives at the local level to develop. This in turn fostered what can now be considered a cultural ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY) behaviour and general apathy towards development.

The Government is now forcibly modernising the system to adapt to evolving demographics by imposing housing quotas and pressurising local authorities to meet the demand. However, in this process they have not taken into account the ambitions of individuals whose principles were moulded by post-war policies. As a result, a large proportion of individuals have failed to evolve with the planning system. This manifests in the form of tensions between local residents, Parish Councils, and other tiers of local government particularly in rural areas. From my observations, it is this tension that contributes to visible political impasse on development decisions and the crawling speed at which the housing crisis is being addressed. A specific example that comes to mind is the Essex County of Basildon where 80 per cent of residents expressed opposition towards draft development plans for the borough. The fallout from this has been political disarray within the council and stalled progress on their emerging Local Plan.

While I may never fully comprehend the multifaceted nature of the housing crisis, I think a big take away as it relates to my role is bearing the responsibility of marrying an evolving fragmentary policy with the ambitions of reactionary communities. Perhaps it is through finding this common ground that we truly progress in addressing the need for new housing and associated social issues.

This article was written by Xyrah Wheatley, Account Executive at MPC.