Seminar 1 – Abstracts


Paper 1: Neighbourhood planning and housebuilding: policy overview

Aidan Wilkie,

Head of Neighbourhood Planning Team, Department for Communities and Local Government

Abstract to follow

Paper 2: “We need to talk about NIMBYs – evidence of opposition to housing developments” 

Peter Matthews, University of Stirling, Stirling,

There is a substantial debate within planning theory and research on the impact of NIMBY activism on planning decisions and the motivations for this behaviour. This paper discusses a recent intervention into that debate – an analysis of British Social Attitudes Survey data on opposition to new housing development (Matthews, 2015). The conclusions of this research and the argument presented are withering in their critique of neighbourhood planning as implemented in England. With very little funded support for Parish Councils or neighbourhood forums to develop plans, there is a very real risk that neighbourhood planning will become a “NIMBYs charter” with plans used to restrict housing development in affluent, middle-class areas. However, these findings run contrary to ministerial commitment to neighbourhood planning and localism and are thus unlikely to gain traction within policy debates, particularly within central government. As academics it is very easy to presume we know the answer to policy problems and know the solution, such as greater state intervention in building homes. However, these will not gain traction with policy-makers due to the political policy commitments. This paper discusses different ways in which a dialogue could be opened up between the academic evidence on NIMBYism and policy-makers so that the evidence is successfully translated into policy-making. It seeks to move beyond the assumption that because policy is corrupted by Politics, evidence has no role, such as the idea of “policy-based evidence”, to suggest different ways in which a dialogue on planning policy may be developed.

Paper 3: Examining the supply challenges for British housebuilders in the post-recession era

Sarah Payne, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield,

 The institutional landscape for new housing supply has changed markedly over the past 10 years and has significantly affected the business operations and outputs of the British speculative housebuilding industry. The 2007/8 recession had a pronounced impact on the financial stability of housebuilders and resulted in historic declines in new housing supply. Current British housing policy trajectories position large-scale housebuilding ambitions alongside tightening low carbon regulation, presenting a distinct texture to the supply challenges facing British housebuilders in the post-recession era. Indeed, it is likely that, overtime, significant increases in speculative housing output will need to comply with emerging zero carbon housing policy, challenging the standardised design techniques and efficient construction methods that remain favoured business strategies for speculative housebuilders. Drawing on empirical research, this paper adopts behavioural analysis to examine how British housebuilders are responding to the twin challenges of increasing housing supply and tightening low carbon regulation. In doing so, this paper critically evaluates whether the British housebuilding industry has the ‘capacity to act’ in meeting the housing needs of a post-recession Britain and provides an exemplar study into the policy challenges of achieving sustainable prosperity in the early 21st century.

Paper 4: Housing supply and suppliers: the microeconomics of housing development

Chris Leishman, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh,

In this paper I review the US, UK and international literature on the responsiveness of housing supply to demand. This is a well developed area of the literature, but I put forward two new arguments: that developers face downward sloping demand curves in the housing market, and that housing developers as firms are sufficiently heterogenous that their output decisions cannot be generalised. I draw on the international literature but use the recent UK experience as a lens, arguing that the post Barker review planning policy and housing supply reforms did not yield as much additional housing supply as had been hoped and expected by policy markets and the housing development industry itself. After introducing two specific propositions, I present new statistical estimates that are at least highly suggestive that firm-specific factors are of importance in understanding supply responsiveness.

Paper 5: Behavioural interventions and new development: can’t we just give it a nudge?

Craig Watkins

Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Urban Institute, University of Sheffield,

This paper looks at the potential of behavioural interventions to offer neighbourhood level solutions to the housing supply problem. It draws on evidence from two recent studies that (i) examine the impact of the New Homes Bonus on the attitudes and behaviour of local politicians, planning officers and other stakeholders in the planning system; and (ii) consider the likely impact on local opposition to development of the introduction of financial payments designed to compensate individuals who live in close proximity to development sites. In teasing out the implications of this analysis for policy development, the paper draws attention to an important, but often ignored, bifurcation between Old and New Behavioural Economics (OBE and NBE). Significantly, NBE approaches, including ‘nudge’ theory, pay relatively little attention to the role of the ‘social’ in decision-making processes. It is argued here that the limited significance ascribed to social and institutional context goes some way to explaining both the modest impact of the New Homes Bonus on behaviour and the largely negative response that members of public display when invited to offer views on financial payment schemes. Old Behavioural Economists have cast doubts on the efficacy of policy interventions that assume that decisions are based on a rational calculus that can be rebalanced by providing new information and/or by the introduction of financial incentives that might skew the balance between the costs and benefits associated with different choices. OBE offers a much thicker conception of the social. Analysis in this tradition suggests that significant behaviour change requires a more deep-seated shift in culture to alter the rules of the game and reshape the accepted norms, customs and practices that influence decision-making. This requires that, to be effective, nudge interventions should be located within a consistent policy narrative and be supported by a wide range of policy mechanisms including regulation.

Paper 6: Legal scales of housebuilding

Antonia Layard, University of Bristol,

This paper investigates the legal landscape for housebuilding. It identifies distinct scales of legal intervention – national (via the TCPA 1990 (as amended) and the NPPF, particularly paras. 47-49), the remains of regional RDAs, the continuing roles played by LPAs through local plans and five year supplies as well as the introduction of neighbourhood planning (via the Localism Act, 2011). Drawing on recent litigation, including Horsham DC v Secretary of State for Communities (2015), Hopkins Homes Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (2015) and R. (on the application of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority) v Broxbourne BC (2015), the paper suggests that these recurring waves of litigation illustrate the inability to resolve these scalar tensions. Until we identify where decision-making should take place, we cannot have a clear system to facilitate housebuilding. The legal can implement the spatial, though there is always reflexivity between the two, but if disputes are to be reduced, scalar decisions need to be made.

Paper 7: Tackling the housing supply crisis in London

Kath Scanlon
Department of Geography, London School of Economics

Abstract to follow


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