Polling suggests radical planning reforms aiming at the right political target

The announcement of the government’s radical planning reforms was greeted with the usual mixture of cynicism and outrage, which you would expect in such a contentious policy area. 

Experts say it can’t be done, shire Tories are mobilising to fight the loss of control and the left will hammer the issue of affordable housing targets.

The massing of the usual armies tells you why many Prime Ministers have shied away from gripping this issue. However, you may have noticed that is not the current incumbent’s style
Not only is reform desperately needed, our latest polling suggests that – in as much as what they are aiming to achieve – they are in line with public opinion.

In a nationally representative poll of 1,200 UK residents, we tested a series of messages around housing to try and understand where the limits of public opinion are.

Our hypothesis was voters that have had enough with a housing debate that is tired, full of contradictions and an impediment to what is actually needed.

Data was collected online on 30th May 2020 by Forefront Market Research.

Sample is Representative of the United Kingdom population.

The results appear to bear this out. A politician that ruthlessly prioritises building more over other considerations will be on the side of a significant majority of voters.

All politicians say they are pro-house building. However, the second line is usually; ‘but we need to build in the right place’, ‘but we need to build more XYZ types of home’ or ‘but we need more affordable housing’. All parties have revolved through these positions. Most are fully aware of the contradictions; the extra rules they generate serve only to impede delivery. This is why our planning system is dysfunctional.

Unfortunately for those stuck in housing limbo, the vociferousness which with local NIMBYs fight housing development leaves many politicians either nervous or downright terrified of taking a pro-development stance. Those with a background in local government have the scars on their back.

It is a condition that afflicts Conservative leaders in particular – many traditionally holding either rural, or south-east constituencies where vocal NIMBY campaigns thrive. Both David Cameron (Witney, Oxfordshire) and Theresa May (Maidenhead, Berkshire) talked a good game on housing, but only felt able to venture into financial support measures, rather than genuine structural reform of the type Boris is now proposing.

Voters have always prioritised building more homes and there is far more underlying political support for housebuilding than most politicians appreciate. Boris instinctively understands this. The evidence suggests that his radical proposals – despite an undoubtedly tricky process from proposal to legislation – will be rewarded by the voters in the end.


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Alex Crowley
About the author
Alex Crowley
Former Political Director to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, part of the teams that won two London Mayoral elections and the Conservative leadership. Over 10 years experience advising private and corporate clients on effective campaign strategies.