Four Ways To Win The Planning Row

The argument over planning reform is becoming increasingly shrill but anyone with half an eye on Britain's demographics will come down in favour of more homes being built. You want more homes for young people, I bet, and so do I.

So why are the government and housebuilders losing the argument to conservation bodies and some of the media - ironically those people who are, on most other subjects, the natural allies of the main governing party?

Perhaps it's because developers (like journalists) are not trusted, not respected and not believed. If so, how about doing these four things to win over public opinion?

1. Make 'sustainability' mean something. Anything on a brownfield site or including a solar panel is these days labelled 'sustainable', just as every scheme is 'luxury' and 'exclusive'. Peter Bill, former Estates Gazette editor, gets it right when he suggests some believe the government should make ‘sustainable’ mean something like, for example, enforcing Boris Johnson's London-only minimum-size standards on all schemes. It would be a sign to the public that ‘sustainability’ provides something better than we have now.

2. Build homes all around the country, not just in the profitable south. Recent ‘starts’ data from the NHBC shows 6,493 starts in the south east and 8,512 starts in London between May and July 2011. In Wales the figure was 866 and in north east England 973. If you want the public on board, start building houses everywhere else, not just in wealthy areas.

3. Build all types of homes, not just expensive ones. Figures from the New Homes Marketing Board’s shows the average price of a new-build is £220,788 - 30% more than the average price of all homes. One reason for the skew is that so many new homes are in the (expensive) south. Trying to win support from local people for a product that will be outside the reach of their sons and daughters trying to buy a first home, is not a smart move.

4. Elevate debate: Housebuilders and estate agents, many of which contribute to the Conservative party, should tell ministers to grow up. Anyone who has accompanied mother-in-law to Castle Drogo will know that National Trust volunteers, in plaid and tweed, may be a lot of things but they are not 'left-wingers' as caricatured by planning minister Greg Clark. For a party that could not beat even Gordon Brown without the help of the Lib Dems, it seems foolhardy to engage in Bullingdon Club-style name-calling against people whose support they need.

It's easy to say all this and harder to do it, of course. But without a change of tactics it is just possible that housebuilders and government will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - and it will be frustrated first time buyers who will pay the price.

If you would like to to comment on this article, click HERE to e-mail Graham.Follow PropertyJourn on Twitter