'Permission Impossible': The 'Planners Are Coming'

In this context, a lively policy debate surrounds the role of planning in providing for new homes in well located and designed communities, or in constraining housing construction and exacerbating affordability pressures. Whilst the protagonists and particulars of such debates differ between nations, principal complaints focus on the role of planning in holding back new housing supply through the imposition of strict zones or environmental controls, inefficient or unpredictable processes, or excessive fees and charges. At the same time, existing home owners in many countries have a deeply suspicious attitude towards the role of the urban planning system in supporting unwanted housing development and destroying residential amenity. The pejorative ‘NIMBY’ (‘Not In My BackYard’) has come to be levelled at home owners in established suburbs and conservation areas where changes to the urban form are thought to threaten natural or cultural heritage, property values and/or the social milieu (Inch 2012; Pendall

1999). In turn, ‘NIMBYISM’ is thought to be a potent political force constraining new and more diverse housing production through restrictive local planning regulations and decisions (Schively 2007).

Ironically then, both home owners and the residential development industry have presented an effective lobby against the planning system, portraying planning (narrowly conceived in terms of restrictions on outer suburban development) as an explanation for higher house prices and housing affordability problems affecting first home buyers in particular. Again, these tensions have become fodder for reality TV, with the BBC series ‘Permission Impossible’ (BBC 2, 2013, 2014) following a set of British planners as they negotiate between house builders (who invariably want to maximise the scale and potential profits of their projects) and local communities who seem in steadfast opposition to any type of change.

The notion of housing shortage—the proportion of new houses being built relative to household growth—and the role of planning in creating an artificial scarcity of residential sites and development has become a powerful motif in such narratives. Versions of the narrative are rehearsed in many jurisdictions despite significant differences in systems of planning and urban regulation and rates of new housing production (Gurran et al. 2014). Further, as we discuss later in this book, housing shortage is very difficult to measure since smaller, wealthier households may choose to live in large homes and may own additional properties for holidays, whilst lower-income groups are often forced to squeeze into smaller dwellings to meet their shelter needs at a lower cost. As highlighted by urban geographer Danny Dorling, the twenty-first century housing problem might not be so much a problem of too few houses as too many houses owned by too few (Dorling 2014).

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