Salter on... The need to be wary of current housing policies

Are you worried about housing growth? Would you go as far as to question the validity, dare one say oppose, the extra 10,000 homes coming to a green space near you? Well, fear not, for a government-backed coalition that - surprise, surprise - includes two major house builders is to be established to combat nimbyism and restore public trust in the growth agenda.

Please excuse me while I rest my head in my hands in utter despair. Not, you understand, because I either support or object to the idea of more homes from Harlow to Harpenden. To be quite honest, even the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Friends of the Earth accept the need for new affordable homes.

The issue here is who is best placed to mediate this debate both nationally and more importantly at the local level. One cannot help but be struck by the timing of deputy prime minister John Prescott's coalition announcement, coming as it did two days after similar coverage of a new "industry forum" to restore trust in the country's financial service trade.

Now call me a cynic, but I cannot help thinking that Joe Public may well suspect the intentions of house builders telling us that more homes are good for our communities, just as it would be right to question the motives of pension providers assuring us of the reputability of their financial products. Of course it is not just finance and housing. The breakdown in public trust is absolutely at the heart of any public or private organisation's ability to influence change.

Speaking at a recent Thames Gateway event, I was personally struck by the number of fellow presenters who waxed lyrical about "new urbanism", the "vibrant neighbourhoods" and the "inclusive communities" that seem to come alive in the architects' illustrations and plans. Taking my turn at the podium, I asked the assembled masses to indicate who in the room currently lived in the area and who was intending to move in that direction come the big property boom. No hands were raised. End of story.

Find me a director of a house building company, a board member of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, even a government minister who is willing to live in a development along the Thames estuary and I will concede that something is being done to resolve the trust dilemma.

Until then I will continue to encourage everyone I meet to be critical of proposals that will affect their families and their quality of life.

Informed opposition is scary stuff. It also just happens to be the best tool at our disposal for positive change.

Miffa Salter runs Urbancanda, an independent practice specialising in consultation and communication strategies. The views expressed are her own.


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