Grand designs for more homes in countryside leave public unconvinced

Poll for 'The Independent' shows half of voters reject Coalition initiative to solve housing crisis

Ministers have failed to convince the public that more housing should be built in the countryside, a poll for The Independent shows.

Forty-eight per cent of people disagree with the statement that “the Government is right to change the planning rules to allow more homes to be built in the countryside to try to boost economic growth”, while 45 per cent agree with it, the survey by ComRes found.

Men are more likely than women to support the Coalition’s drive to tackle the housing shortage by ensuring that more homes are built in rural areas. Men back the proposal by a margin of 51 to 45 per cent but women oppose it by a margin of 51 to 40 per cent.

At a time when many younger people struggle to get on the housing ladder, a majority of people between the ages of 18 and 34 support more housebuilding in the countryside, but the idea is opposed by a majority of those in all older age groups.

Additional housing in rural areas enjoys more public support than opposition in London, the North-east, Yorkshire and Humberside, Wales and Scotland but is opposed by more people in the South-east, the South-west, the North-west, the East Midlands and West Midlands.

Labour voters are the most likely to agree with the Coalition’s policy, supporting it by 52 to 42 per cent. It is opposed by 50 per cent of Conservative voters, with 43 per cent backing it. Liberal Democrat voters are almost split down the middle, with 48 per cent supporting more housing and 49 per cent against it. Some 60 per cent of people intending to vote for the UK Independence Party oppose the idea and they are almost as hostile as Green Party voters (67 per cent).

The findings were welcomed by the National Trust, which opposes the Coalition’s strategy. Ingrid Samuel, its historic environment director, said: “The poll suggests that half the population doesn’t want the countryside destroyed for the sake of economic growth. At a time when everyone is worried about jobs and the economy, that’s an extraordinary statement of love for the countryside. What’s important is that we have a planning system that gets houses built where communities need them, not just where it’s convenient or cheap.”

Neil Sinden, director of policy and campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “Is the planning system an obstacle to providing more homes? And is another housing-fuelled economic boom a long-term solution? For CPRE the answer to both is a resounding ‘no’. There are planning consents for hundreds of thousands of new homes which are not profitable for housebuilders to build due to the economic climate.”

Nick Boles, a Planning minister, who wants to see the amount of  developed land increased by up to a third, said: “Our reforms will help build the homes and jobs this country needs in a way that safeguards the countryside and maintains protections for green belt and other natural areas.”

Nick Faith, director of communications for the Policy Exchange think-tank, said: “The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. The Government’s aim to build more homes is right. We can protect the countryside while building the attractive homes that people want.”

ComRes interviewed 1,001 adults by telephone between 26 and 28 April

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