Time to listen to the ‘silent majority’

DSCN1037Is it time to listen to the ‘silent majority’? That seems to be one of the questions asked in a recent Fabian Society report entitled – Silent Majority: How the public will support a new wave of social housing. The focus of the report is public opposition to new housing as an explanation for why successive governments seem unable to address the growing affordability crisis in UK housing. Lack of public support for new housing, particularly social housing, is often used as a reason for not doing more, for why government shouldn’t be involved and why this is no longer part of what the local state should be focused on. The Fabian report seeks to dispel this myth, suggesting that nearly 60% of people would actually support more social housing and many would be positive about the government playing a key part in provision.

I’m sure this is a report that the current government will ignore, as it certainly doesn’t chime with their approach to social housing, where the state’s role is reducing, with less and less funding available, and reliance for affordable housing provision resting more and more with housing associations and the private sector.

There’s a further strand to the idea of listening to the silent majority and that’s to down play the amount of coverage and credence we give to NIMBYS. How about we stop and consider all those who are currently living in cramped and overcrowded conditions, in unaffordable accommodation, living miles from where they work, still living at home with parents, ‘sofa-surfers’ and others living in unacceptable housing circumstances because they have little choice because they can’t afford the alternatives currently on offer. How often do we hear from them? Sadly it seems that when we do, people in need of affordable and social housing are frequently depicted in a less than positive light, stigmatised by circumstance!

The Fabian report calls for passionate politicians capable of carrying clear messages to the public to change perceptions and to deliver the change we need. What hopes and signs are there that this might happen? Well in the build up to next years general election there’ll probably be lots of promises, indeed the Liberal Democrats have already suggested that local council’s should be able to suspend the Right to Buy in their area to protect existing council stock. A good idea particularly where waiting lists are long and where council’s are building new homes with public money.

But then we have the knee jerk reaction of other politicians to the notion that we should be building more homes – enter Brandon Lewis, Minister for Housing & Planning. Last week as we had the announcement of the winning entry for the Wolfson Garden City Prize the government immediately distanced itself from the proposals (is there an election in the near future then?) writing them off as urban sprawl and top-down imposition of housing on local communities that just won’t work. Indeed if that’s what the winning proposal had suggested I’d have some sympathy with the response, but it’s not. In fact there’s so many good ideas in all the shortlisted entries that the government would do well to take a proper look at them before defining their own policy. The existing process of allowing local councils and communities to decide where housing should and shouldn’t go quite frankly isn’t working in many areas of the country – something has to change.

Everyone seems to agree there is a problem, we’re not building enough homes and housing is getting more unaffordable. Where we don’t seem to agree is on what causes this problem and how to solve it, we get argument and counter argument along with initiative after initiative. But does anyone have a long term solution that will actually create the change we need? A solution that we can begin work on now so the problem doesn’t just get worse and worse – sadly not. Perhaps the election process will draw out more solutions? Although somehow I doubt it.

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8 thoughts on “Time to listen to the ‘silent majority’

  1. Bit suspicious of the “silent majority” claims. Reminds me of the politician, “the people I meet….” oh yeh, which people are those? We certainly need more homes for a population that is, and has been, growing faster than the housing market can cope with, even if it got it’s act together. I go back to my original claim that houses should be a place to live, not an investment or a substitute for your pension. Governments should not base the economy around housing and the need for prices to continually rise, and credit should be for those who can repay the debt. Sounds and is simplistic and certainly won’t solve what I’m afraid is an unsolvable problem, at least in the medium term, but it may be a start in the right direction!

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    • The research seemed fairly robust, but I guess responses may vary in different areas – but can’t help but agree generally that it tends to be those opposed to something that shout the loudest.

      Agree with you on the investment vs place to live issue, but probably gone too far down that route now for any simple change.

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  2. Have you seen Richard Rogers comments which are reported in the Guardian and architectural press? An unlikely supporter of the government position.

    I’m not sure that there is any ‘Green Belt’ inside the City of Bristol but there must be quite a bit of ‘brownfield land’ still about. The issue for Bristol is density as the current policies will not support enough development in the medium to longer term as the sites are developed.

    In the end it will have to be a bit of both- some green field some brown field. Some high rise some medium density some standard housing developers fare. The trick will be identifying which is best for which sites.

    I haven’t read the Urbed winning proposal yet but it from the reporting of it there are some good ideas. I’m sure there will be in the other finalists entries as well.

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    • Hi Robert, yes I saw the comments from Rogers, not really a surprise given his track record on brownfield vs greenfield. Agree with your assessment on solutions and yes there was quite a lot of good stuff in the Shelter and Barton Wilmore reports as well.

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  3. The biggest problem I see, is the building of the wrong type of houses. I am surrounded by new build 1 bed flats in an area inhabited by families. Planning needs to be driven by user need rather than developer profit. It seems to be the only business where the customer is the last consideration.

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    • Hi Lee, yes to a point, although welfare reforms are pushing people into smaller houses, so depends on circumstance as well. Totally agree about planning though. Thanks for your comments, Tessa

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  4. Pingback: On the blog – what’s popular? | TessaCoombes

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