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Grant Shapps: Labour have created a generation of NIMBYs

In my Party conference speech I said that I wanted the next Conservative government to help create "a Nation of Homebuilders".

But I want to start with a confession! It turns out that I'm what this government calls a NIMBY. Understand, it's not that I've actually objected to building in my own backyard. I haven't.

It's just that in 2006 the government announced - quite out of the blue - that 10,000 houses would be built in my constituency.   

This sudden pronouncement came despite the fact that the future of our local hospital was in doubt.

A&E, Maternity, Paediatrics, Elderly Care and All Operations were to be slated for closure.

Meanwhile just a mile away from the proposed housing development our already dilapidated Hatfield Town Centre continued to crumble.

So ask yourself this...

If you lived in my area... if you represented my area... where would you stand?

Laid back... welcoming the massive population growth whilst the local hospital is decimated... and the town centre disintegrates...

Or marching with the No Way To 10k campaign?

If in doubt, the splash on the front of the local Welwyn Hatfield Times would help focus your mind: "Battle is on to save our Green Belt" screamed the front page.

No need to sit back and contemplate. We live in a representative democracy and people rightly demand action from their leaders.

Moreover, anyone who wanted to continue to represent the authentic voice of local residents would instantly know where they stood.

Within hours of the news I'd set up that No Way To 10k campaign...

Tellingly, within days, every local political party had joined it.


This government's cack-handed approach had single-handedly turned a constituency consisting of two new towns, actually accustomed to and comfortable with growth - into a hostile environment for any would-be developer.

And this is a story that I've seen repeated up and down the country.


Yet back in Whitehall, it's easy to understand how frustrating this must seem for Ministers and Civil Servants.

Local communities rising up against development.

And now, more than ever, the Government under enormous pressure to find a solution.

Ordered to deliver 3m homes by 2020 - it's just a race against time for this week's hapless Housing Minister to make something... anything... happen... before the inevitable reshuffle.

So higher targets... louder diktats... a bigger stick and more legislation to create strange sounding Quangos designed to deliver on the Government's housing targets...

RSS's... the HCA... RDA's...  EEDA... SEDA... EERA... NERA

As the latest housing Minister pulls the levers of state, he or she pushes the people further away.

And the harder those levers are pulled... the less they actually control...

The Regional Spatial Strategy in the East of England has been challenged and halted in the High Court...

The South East plan is under legal review and Ministers have indefinitely delayed the publication of the South West RSS to pre-empt similar legal challenges.

This fiasco has left the planning system in limbo with councils and developers unable to make progress on their local plans.

And all the while... the housing crisis deepens.

A new generation of NIMBYs is created as a direct response to the Government's own misguided attempt to make something happen.

The process itself creates a vicious circle... deadlock... stalemate.


So if the top-down approach is the problem, creating a nation of NIMBYs in its wake - then the solution should be obvious.

Scrap targets... abolish regional quangos... and allow local communities the freedom to build again.

And actually even this simple step would probably get more building done.

As we've discovered, the Regional Spatial Strategies bogged down by legal dispute are actually preventing homes from being built right now.

And maybe, in a perfect world, it would be that simple - after all, everyone acknowledges we need more homes:

  • Social housing tenants languishing on housing waiting lists which have doubled since Labour came to power - they know we need to build more homes.
  • Young people who can't afford to buy, along with their parents who are so often the only lender in town - they know we need more homes.
  • From rough sleepers to councillors... civil servants to journalists and the commentators, they all know we need build more homes.

So scrap the Regional Spatial Strategies and let local communities build...

Yes it's a start, but it's no longer enough...

This Government's insistence on ignoring local people and removing their power means that, despite the housing shortage, Labour has helped foster a deep suspicion of house-builders and developers.

So getting rid of the Whitehall targets and the regional nonsense is now only part of the solution...

It's vital that communities actually get something back in return for seeing their area developed.

<orma> </orma> <h2>INCENTIVES</h2>

And herein lies the problem...

At present the system may work against local communities financially.

Extra homes require additional services and councils have to pick up the tab.

Now of course, new Council Tax can be collected from each additional household, yet the mind-blowing complexity which is local government finance may mean that an area is actually worse off once the homes have been built.

So let's see...

More people... a loss of space and amenity... oh, and you may pay more, just for the pleasure.

And they wonder why people object!

We want to end the inequity of this system...

So a future Conservative Government will match pound-for-pound the Council Tax revenue received on all new homes for a period of six years.

And in order to help fix Labour's affordable housing crisis, we will guarantee 125 pence for every pound received in Council Tax from new social homes... again in addition to the money already collected.

And if you just take a moment to think about what this means in cash terms, you'll see that it is a really big deal.

Those 10,000 homes in my area would mean match funding of something like £100m.

Easily enough to convince my local population that development might bring some benefits:

A regenerated town centre...

  • Lower Council Tax bills...
  • Support for post offices, local schools, the corner shop...
  • Local people seeing the benefits for themselves, and crucially, local politicians able to campaign for development, secure in the knowledge that it really could make the local area a better place to live.

What's more, because we understand that you can't have more homes without more local jobs... we're proposing a similar incentive for new employment too.

Our Business Increase Bonus will - for the first time - let any council which has a business rate growth above the national index, keep the difference for six years.

More homes... more people... but crucially, more jobs.

  • So, pointless Whitehall targets banished....
  • Regional bureaucracy and Quangos abolished...
  • And real financial incentives for communities introduced...

It's all good stuff, but I believe there's something else that needs to urgently change?


The decrepit planning system.

Development being done to an area rather than with local people.

You know I meet a lot of developers unable to understand how there could be any objection:

  • They say that they've played by the rules...
  • Ticked all the right boxes...
  • They've committed to generous agreements to fund social housing...
  • They've even been told their application looks 'good to go' by the Chief Planner...

And yet when it comes in front of the Planning Committee, it's thrown out by local councillors.

So developers are frustrated. They tell me that these councillors have no right to be blocking their development.

But hold on a minute...

How have we allowed a situation to develop where the very people who are democratically elected to represent the community are accused of not doing their job when they - well... represent the concerns of their local community?

We have to get out of the mindset of believing that it's wrong... or somehow inappropriate for councillors to stick up for their residents.

But to get there, we need to ensure that there really is local benefit to be gained by seeing a development go ahead.


But we won't achieve this kind of progressive reform just by coming up with yet another Housing or Planning Bill.  We've had 10 of them in the past 12 years, and that approach hasn't worked.

Instead it needs to include root and branch reform of the relationship between development and resident.

I've already described how a future Conservative government would dramatically help that process by ensuring that for the local community, where there's construction, there's cash.

And we've discussed how this could help councillors stand in favour of development, because the neighbourhood would genuinely benefit.

But that's still not enough...

We're going to need developers to step-up-to-the-plate and play their part too.

And that means working on new approaches to engage with the community before an application is made.

  • Explaining from the outset what's actually in it for them.
  • Finding out what the community really needs and helping to deliver it.

Our approach as a government will be pro-development.

We'll enshrine this approach in the planning system thereby making the planning process quicker... more certain... and more transparent.

But in return developers need to remember that when they have sold all the houses and moved on, life doesn't stop there. They are leaving behind the homes and people that are the future of that neighbourhood.

So the emphasis won't just be on building boxes for people to live in, they will instead need to engage and work with communities if they want to enhance their own bottom line.

So Charrettes and Enquiry by Design will become the standard on larger projects.

These approaches involve local people truly shaping their neighbourhoods.

But to make real progress the planning system itself needs to be much more honest about the impact of development.

At the moment there are a whole series of very real issues which cannot be considered as material under planning law.

This is crazy.

We've said that a future Conservative government will be open and transparent and I believe that the planning system must follow suit.

It should no longer be acceptable to hide behind a bunch of technical objections, rather than discussing the real concerns of locals.

Where there is a genuine impact on the neighbourhood, this should be confronted head-on with the developer, local authority and residents.


But we want to go further...

And so in certain situations we will remove the Planning Committee from the process altogether!

Take a rural area struggling with high house prices, driving young people out of the village.

A lack of population threatens the village school... post offices ... and GP surgeries.

So our Local Housing Trusts will give communities the power to grant themselves permission to build.

The land will be locked in for village use forever, while the homes that are needed are built...

Affordable housing for local people...

Starter homes...

Sheltered housing...

And maybe low rent premises for the village shop.

Locals wresting control of their own destiny...

Breaking free of the bureaucratic state and solving their own housing shortage.

Our parishes and villages at the cutting edge of a new social revolution.


This year will see fewer homes built than at any time since the War.

And yet Ministers remain wedded to a system which has consistently delivered failure.

Instead of recognising the need for change, the response has been to bolster the bureaucracy... turn up targets... and crack down on communities.

It's a situation that cannot continue...

Our reforms will turn the system on its head...

From believing that communities represent the problem... to knowing that they are part of the solution...

From targets to incentives...

From bureaucracy to democracy...

And from NIMBY to YIMBY.

Thank you.

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