Where and how many homes we build is a big conversation topic in many industries linked to housebuilding, such as construction, law, planning, economics and academia

Whilst there is a recognised problem with the housing market (affordability), there are no solutions that everyone agrees on. The conversation goes back and forth between housebuilders, town planners, economists, lobby groups, think tanks and politicians, debating over housing numbers, methodologies and whether the problem is caused by low supply or low-interest rates.

But this conversation tends to exclude the people that matter the most, the very people who's very real experience of trying to rent or buy a home doesn't seem to feed in to the 'evidence' that the experts use to justify their own brand of solution. It might sound simplistic to some, but have we ever tried asking people looking for homes what they want, where they want it and what is stopping them from getting it? The answer is yes, but we are very bad at it.

Spatial planning is impenetrable for ordinary people

As someone who works in the 'industry' and has recently become a first-time buyer in Bristol, I am oblivious as to how I could have possibly influenced the West of England Joint Spatial Plan, which (might eventually) determine where in the region I will have the option to live in the future and what kind of home I will be able to find. As far as I can tell, the decisions were made behind closed doors without any meaningful input from council tax payers of the West of England's four local authorities.

If there was any kind of consultation, I wasn't asked for my input and I suspect any consultation process that took place was far too long winded and un-user-friendly to realistically expect me to spend time getting involved. It is no surprise that the JSP process is about to be scrapped and restarted, after the Government inspector questioned the logic behind the places where the four local authorities deemed it necessary to build new homes.

We need to make it easier, almost instantaneous, for people to have their say in the planning conversation and recognise that we can't realistically expect more than that, particularly from people with busy jobs, young children and social lives.

The housebuilding debate is hugely intimidating

When you look at local newspapers, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, the debate about housebuilding takes place in very emotive terms with very pointed language. It is usually started by people that instinctively feel that they have something extremely valuable to lose (lifestyle, well-being or wealth) or professional experts, and so joining that discussion becomes a scary prospect for anyone who has even a slight disagreement with what is being said.

We therefore never hear what anyone else thinks, because 'staying out of it' becomes by far the most attractive option. We need to create safe, unintimidating, accessible environments for people to get involved. Unless we do, we won't have a chance of balancing the debate and hearing from people that feel that they might have something to gain by creating new homes.

We fail to make a 'hearts and minds' argument for new homes

As human beings, we instinctively know we need somewhere to live. We take great pride in our homes and they are normally worth more to us than their resale value: they are where we build and maintain relationships with family, friends and loved ones and they are a base for us to do almost everything that we want in our lives. Yet, these arguments for new homes are rarely made in the pro-homes debate.

Actually, that's not true. They are made but only in the sense that new homes threaten these values and don't uphold them. Spatial planning arguments required to build new homes won't hold any weight with ordinary people until we convince them that new homes are worth fighting for. That's why when we ask people for their insight on planning issues, we need to add colour to what we are asking them and make human arguments for housing growth – simply giving them the opportunity to get involved won't be enough.

Here at Participatr, we are in the process of creating a potential solution. Keep your eye on @Participatr over the coming weeks.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr


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