The article below featured in the April edition of Housebuilder magazine.
Newgate partner, Zoe Ensor, head of Newgate North, thinks it is time that industry experts stepped forward to become councillors to shift the balance in council chambers.
The media spotlight landed on a new phrase recently with the public being introduced to the term ‘land banking’.
The Prime Minister’s determination to shift focus away from boring Brexit to a different domestic issue saw scrutiny on the housing crisis and, before you could even utter the words ‘Letwin review’, developers were in the firing line for just about everything but in particular the perceived practice of securing land and not immediately putting a shovel in the ground.
Some media did discuss other barriers to development and land values, green belt, local plans, our attachment to ownership, the lack of council investment in housing over decades and associated borrowing restrictions, the impact of the London bubble, did get a mention but in the main the press reported the basics and majored on the stick the Government is now waving at developers.
But an issue which got hardly any airtime is the quality of the people who are making so many of the critically important planning decisions in our country – our local councillors.
Many of these elected members are male (only 33% are women) and from the older generation. Often they are retired, secure in their mortgage-free home and collecting their pensions and expenses and have a fixed and, dare I say, narrow, view of the world. It’s infuriating but let ‘s not forget they have been chosen by the public.
I do, however, wonder if the voters are getting much of a choice. Working people may be busy and not keen to get into local politics but until people with a genuine understanding of development step forward for election and get into positions on planning committees it is always going to be a struggle.
So perhaps we as a housebuilding community should be volunteering to be part of local government and stepping up to become councillors. We couldn’t vote on our own schemes but we could shift the balance and bring an alternative view to some of these dusty council chambers.
So rather than bemoaning the quality of a system that can see a £45m project derailed by councillors who admit to not having read the officer report, why not infiltrate it and make a change from the inside.
Candidate forms anyone?