We’ve carried acres of words attacking the new homes being built across Cheshire, and this week we were given a leaked copy of a letter sent by Cheshire East leader Michael Jones to Brandon Lewis, the new minister for housing and planning. Coun Jones wants the minister to help prevent unwanted developments by forcing planning inspectors to be consistent.
Elections are coming and the minister is unlikely to be sympathetic due to the results of a recent survey which revealed public support for the building of new homes has risen. This editorial was going to take a different tack until those pesky facts got in the way, as we shall see.
Some of our original points still stand: we originally wrote that we need more houses and, from the Government’s point of view, Cheshire must look good. Lots of nice country in commuting distance of big cities. Lots of Tory MPs in safe seats, who, at the end of the day, won’t kick up much real fuss.
It’s also true that locally, with elections due next year, things look a little different. The old Congleton borough has proved to be a king-maker in the past, handing the Tories both Congleton borough and Cheshire county councils when voters got disillusioned with the Lib Dems. On the surface, Coun Jones has good reason to be concerned.
Sadly, Mr Lewis does not look like a man who will be sympathetic – and after looking into this, he may well have good reason.
In an article written in the Daily Telegraph in July, just after he was promoted, the minister outlined his beliefs.
After a rambling introduction and some political point scoring, Mr Lewis quoted the British Social Attitudes Survey on house-building, which found that since 2010 support for new homes had risen “dramatically”, from 28% in 2010 to 47% in 2013.
Opposition to new homes over the same period had fallen from 46% in 2010 to 31% in 2013.
What he’s saying (he says it’s thanks to Government planning reforms), is that local communities that once opposed new housing developments now support them. Hmm. These figures seemed at odds with stories we’ve carried, and stories we’ve seen elsewhere.
So we checked the figures, thinking they were perhaps carried out at Tory HQ with a sample size of four.
In fact the survey was carried out by the independent NatCen Social Research, which asked lots of people. Mr Lewis was quoting the figures accurately, too, not needing the politician’s knack of selectively picking figures to suit.
The survey found that between 2010 and 2013 opposition to new homes in respondents’ local areas fell by 15 points.
The fall in opposition to new house building was biggest among those aged over 65.
The 35-54s needed the most convincing, 36% of them say they “opposed or strongly opposed” new homes being built in their local area.
Penny Young, chief executive of NatCen, said: “These findings suggest that the difficulties faced by young people seeking to get on the housing ladder have cut through with the public as a whole. The parents of ‘generation rent’ have recognised that, if their children are going to see the benefits of homeownership, new houses are needed.” But: this means that two thirds of people aged 35-54 support new homes in their local area and resistance among pensioners, who you’d perhaps expect to be most conservative, has fallen.
Does this suggest that the vocal opposition to new homes comes from a small minority? Campaigners might not like it, but the survey found that:
47% of people are in favour of new homes, compared to 28% in 2010;
69% would not oppose new homes, compared to 54% in 2010;
Two thirds of pensioners support the building of new homes – in 2010 it was only 49%.
The figures suggest that opinion is far more divided than press reports would have you believe: just under half of people apparently support the building of new houses and around 70% would not oppose new build, while 70% of pensioners do not oppose new builds.
Cheshire East, and many of the protest groups, are of course opposed to planning applications in the “wrong” areas, but still: we suspect the Government knows new houses need to be built, because there is a shortage of houses, and that most people do not object.
Given that pensioners vote at a higher rate than other groups, and that two thirds of younger people support new homes anyway, perhaps the bad news for Coun Jones is that the Government won’t listen to his concerns.
The good news is that come election time, it might not matter that much.