The reactivation of traditional protest repertoires in land use conflicts

A pre-modern repertoire of collective action associated with anti-enclosure struggles has been reactivated by contemporary social movements engaged in urban property conflicts.  Traditional rituals of public shaming and folk justice that once upheld a moral economy of common property rights have become a manifestation of public concern over the deregulation of development planning. In this post I want to understand why these traditional protest methods now appear so appropriate to land use conflicts in Britain.

Among the folk repertoires reactivated in contemporary land use disputes is the ritual of beating the bounds, a customary perambulation intended to instil collective identity, which has re-emerged in England as a popular form of protest among local communities opposing the loss of common land and rights of way. Promoted by the Open Spaces Society, itself an organisation founded in opposition to the loss of common property rights, what was an annual religious ceremony has become a means of generating support for landscapes threatened by unwanted property development plans.

Beating the Bounds in 2017 in Liverpool, organised by the Save Allerton Priory Campaign 

In southern Scotland, the traditional Common Ridings that celebrate the defence of common land rights have acquired renewed significance as local communities reclaim the collective ownership of land enclosed and privatised by the aristocracy in the seventeenth century. Campaigners against urban sprawl in southern England have abandoned the protest march to revive the traditional folk justice parade of the charivari or skimmity and challenge the land use decisions of planners and developers through rituals of public shaming. What makes these forms of collective action relevant? And what connection is there between opposition to unwanted development and a history of common property rights?

Traditional repertoires of protest were rooted in an economy of common property rights that enabled the poorest households in rural settlements and some urban centres to sustain a non-waged economy that reduced dependence on paid employment. Many of these customary property rights depended on the collective memory of a community and on the continual renewal of oral traditions. The annual perambulation of the bounds of the parish, known as beating the bounds, served both as a mnemonic device to ensure those rights were remembered, and as the means by which they could be defended. Participants in the procession ritually beat at markers, invoking sound, sight, and touch to ensure the memory of the line of boundary was passed on through the generations. The bounds were beaten to the accompaniment of music, song, and chants, with food and drink served at memorable points along the route, concluding with feasting to lubricate the mnemonic systems.

 The most famous of folk justice protests was the charivari as it was known in medieval France, “riding skimmington” or “riding the stang,” as it was called in England and Scotland, or more generally a “riding”. A charivari or skimmington was a carnival of public shaming intended to maintain the social norms of the moral economy. Its original function was to punish sexual transgressions and the charivari took the form of a rowdy public procession, with effigies mounted on horseback or on a pole carried on the shoulders of the crowd, to the accompaniment of rough music, a cacophony from the beating of pots and pans and the raucous playing of instruments.

The skimmington or charivari was an instrument of community self-governance deployed to discourage breaches of custom that also could be quickly rallied to demolish the fences, walls and hedges of the enclosures that began to privatise common land in the late medieval period One of the purposes of the beating the bounds procession was to guard against enclosure of common land and to challenge any unauthorised change in the customary boundaries. Processioners might carry tools to demolish any private enclosure on common land and break down walls or fences that obstructed access. The beating of the bounds could, and occasionally did, erupt into direct action when common rights were threatened.

In 2017 in Liverpool, the Save Allerton Priory Campaign used the beating the bounds tradition to raise awareness and appreciation of the benefits of a green wedge, or corridor of open land leading from the city to the countryside, that was protected by local planning policy but subject to hostile planning applications by major property companies. Around 40 people took part in beating the bounds of Allerton Priory Park and the open land of the green corridor, drumming with sticks of willow at the corner stones, stone pillars, and stone walls around the perimeter.“I made up a chant,” said the organiser. “We sang it to the tune of one of the Beatles songs, just to imprint it in the mind where the boundaries were of the green wedge, and then refreshments at the end in the church hall: lots of tea and cake.”

Traditional beating the bounds processions were often recorded in a formal written account of the perambulation, describing the linear route of the parish boundary without reference to maps but noting prominent features in the landscape. In Brighton in 2018 the Save Whitehawk Hill campaign used a beating the bounds procession to protest against plans to build apartment blocks on common land. There is a contemporary memorial of the boundary walk in Beating the Bounds at Whitehawk Hill: a photo essay

Faced with the unwelcome prospect of 10,000 homes built on fields adjacent to a conservation area, amenity groups in the village of Ifield in Sussex organised a beating the bounds procession in 2023 as a means of galvanising opposition. In reclaiming and rediscovering an ancient boundary, the Ifield amenity groups found an effective means of demonstrating to their constituency the threat presented by the planned development. 

“It is only when you physically walk the footpaths and bridleways that weave through the landscape that you appreciate the scale of what is being proposed,” said a member of the Ifield Village Association. “You realize that you’ve walked for an hour and you’re walking through what will become housing. And it’s an important thing, seeing what it’s like on the ground.  You’re going through countryside, some of it is hedgerow, some of it is open field, past woodland with little streams, and views across the vale to the sandstone rise in the Central Weald, and then you’re saying, well, this is all going to be rooftops.” 

Beating the bounds for the Save West of Ifield Campaign

Save The Area North of Dorchester (STAND) staged a Skimmity Ride through the streets of Dorchester in April 2022 as part of their campaign against plans to build over 4,000 new houses and a new highway in an area of the Dorset countryside known globally as ‘Hardy Country,’ for its association with the novelist Thomas Hardy. Led by a Town Cryer, followed by a drummer, and the STAND banner, a procession paraded effigies labelled ‘Developers’ and ‘Planners,’ back-to-back on a donkey, through the town to the accompaniment of rough music from the ringing of bells, the hammering of pots and pans and a cacophony of human howls of derision.

A Skimmity Ride through Dorchester organised by STAND. Photo by Alastair Nisbet

The carnival elements of the Skimmity Ride were vital to mobilising support for the aims of the STAND campaign but also signalled the campaign group’s frustration with the formal, authorised modes of engagement in land use planning policy. STAND, who oppose the development on environmental grounds and are campaigning for more social rented and low-cost homes, feel the legitimate planning concerns they raise are given little weight by the local authority. A STAND campaigner explained: 

“Back in the day, how could people protest? How could they express their opinions? They didn’t have the vote, and if they tried something, they were going to be done in by the Riot Act and Peterloo and all the rest of it. Their hands were tied. And we now have the vote, and we’re invited to consult, but we know that, by and large, what we say is disregarded if it doesn’t suit the whims and fancies of officers and leaders. And so, we’re just as frustrated today, and I think that was what triggered the Skimmity Ride as a form of demonstration.” 

Folk routines of public shaming like the Skimmity Ride emerged to uphold and protect a moral economy of common property rights that had a strong ethical code governing land use. Social movement theorist, Donatella della Porta (2017: 253) maintains that these pre-modern repertoires have been reactivated “as powerful instruments to restore a broken moral order.” Contemporary land use planning policy has its own moral economy and ethical code. The public interest it upholds rests on a shared understanding of the need to restrict private property rights. In reactivating folk repertoires of protest, amenity groups uphold a moral order in which property developers have public responsibilities, their rights are constrained by obligations and their land has other – and more than human ­– beneficiaries.

Donatella della Porta (2017) Afterwords: Old and New Repertoires of Contention. In: Favretto, I. & Itçaina, X. (eds.) Protest, Popular Culture and Tradition in Modern and Contemporary Western Europe. London, Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 249-260

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Plotlands – the struggle for land and affordable housing

Plotlands – the informally-planned settlements of self-built bungalows, chalets and shanties that gave working class families affordable access to rural and seaside property between the wars – are a distinctive feature of the British landscape and a living reminder of struggles over planning and property rights.

Plotlands in Essex
Plotlands today near Wickford in Essex

It was the ability to build your own home affordably, adding to it over the years as income allowed, that motivated working class families to acquire plots of land, initially for weekend and holiday use, in nearly 300 plotland sites, many still flourishing today. These plotlands were seen by their residents as the real garden villages, settlements organised and run by mutual aid and collective action,  where the benefits of rural living could be enjoyed by families escaping from city slums, and a house in the country could become a realistic ambition for otherwise property-less people. 

Duncton Hills, Plotlands museum near Basildon
Dunton Hills plotlands museum

Aided by new rail access to country and coast, with legislation in 1938 providing holidays with pay, working class households bought plots of poor quality marginal land at auction to build their holiday homes. The homes they erected on these plots were initially tents, huts or old railway carriages. They were single-storey houses, simply built from whatever material (corrugated iron, asbestos, pre-cast concrete and bricks) lay at hand. The homesteaders cycled from the station with building materials strapped to their backs, turning their labour into capital, and extending their self-built homes as their income allowed.

While the self-made resort of Peacehaven is now indistinguishable from any other seaside town, the characterful riverside homes at Bewdley on the banks of the Severn continue to excite architectural interest, while plotlands at Dungeness and at Humberston near Cleethorpes, are now protected as conservation areas. The plotlands at Laindon in Essex housed a settled population of 25,000 in the 1940s,  served by 75 miles of grass-track roads, with no sewers and just standpipes for water supply. Incorporated into Basildon new town, this informally planned settlement is now a nature reserve and houses the Dunton Hills Plotland museum, while on the outskirts of other Essex towns, the irregular landscape of plotlands is still visible, and shacks and chalets persist in the haphazard scattering of more ostentatious self-built homes along a grid-iron pattern of unadopted roads. 

It was to cleanse the landscape of these self-built settlements that the 1947 town planning legislation was created. Plotlands such as the thriving settlement at Shoreham Beach were demolished by local authorities, and orderly efficient land uses and extortionate land values were restored by putting an end to the property-owning democracy that this bungalow town had promised. Back in the 1930s the Plotlands movement was described as “land nationalisation” in that it promised to make property-ownership and country living available affordably to all and to end dependence on landlords and their rent-racking. But after the 1947 Act compulsory purchase powers were used to deprive working class smallholders of their seaside living. 

Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy, whose research has saved Plotlands from the oblivion of official planning histories, liken these self-build towns to the informal settlements of the Global South, where mutual aid and self-organisation challenge the urban landscapes of exclusion and eviction. In Jaywick Sands, for example, the Plotlanders planned and ran their own town, erecting street lighting from their own subscriptions, building their own flood protection, and running their own sewage disposal service.  This was not so much a story of individual endeavour and enterprise, but a response to exclusion and the refusal of the local state to provide services to homes that did not conform to regulations. The Plotlands of Britain remain a critical example of popular planning and of the continuing struggle for land and affordable housing.

For more information about Plotlands, Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy’s ‘Arcadia for All: the legacy of a makeshift landscape’ is the definitive account.

There are excellent web resources, about Dunton Plotlands (, HUMBERSTON FITTIES, and Bewdley from which images on this page are taken. In the Town Planning Review, Lost plotlands: regulatory consequences of forgotten places. (2021, 92 (5) pp. 643-666), Richard Bower maps over 250 plotlands. Perhaps there is one near you.

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Missing Targets: the systemic failure to calculate affordable housing need

Local authorities in England systematically under-count the need for affordable homes. This under-counting is deliberate and serves to cover up their abysmal failure to tackle a crisis of affordability in housing.

The deliberate undercounting of affordable housing need is built into every stage of government planning practice guidance. From this guidance local authorities calculate the amount of new affordable homes required to be built each year for sale or rent.

‘Affordable’ housing is not necessarily affordable. It is merely discounted on market price and consists of new rental, purchase and part-ownership homes. This discounted housing may be built by housing associations or local authority housing companies, but half of the annual total is built by private developers as a condition of securing planning permission. The government instructs local authorities to be ‘realistic’ about the amount of affordable housing they can secure from private developers. They are told not to set targets that the private sector might find too demanding.

That is why:

  • Only households registered on council waiting lists are included
  • Overcrowded households in social housing are not counted
  • All those living in inadequate housing are not included
  • Private renting households are excluded despite not being able to afford the rent
  • New households falling into need have to be homeless before they are counted
  • Affordable homes that have not yet been (and may never be) built are counted as available for rehousing
  • Planning quotas for affordable housing have no connection to the total amount of need
  • There is no requirement on local authorities to ensure the delivery of all affordable housing required

Local planning authorities are tasked with carrying out an assessment of affordable housing need. They are told how to carry out this assessment in statutory Planning Practice guidance (MHCLG, 2021). Current guidance is a streamlined version of the 2007 Strategic Housing Market Assessments: Practice Guidance, Version 2 (DCLG, 2007) and is set out in the table below.

Stage OneCurrent Unmet (gross) Need for affordable housing
1.1Homeless households and those in temporary accommodation
1.2Overcrowding and Concealed households
1.3Existing affordable housing tenants in need (i.e. currently housed in unsuitable dwellings)
1.4Households in other tenures in need
1.5Total Current Unmet Need (gross) 1.1+1.2+1.3+1.4
Stage TwoFuture Need
2.1New household formation (gross per year)
2.2New households unable to buy or rent in the market
2.3Existing households falling into need
2.4Total Future Need (gross per year) (2.1 x 2.2) + 2.3
Stage ThreeAffordable Housing Supply
3.1Affordable homes occupied by households in need
3.2Surplus affordable stock
3.3Committed supply of new affordable housing
3.4Total affordable stock available 3.1+3.2+3.3
3.5Annual supply of affordable re-lets or re-sale
Stage FourEstimate of net annual housing need
4.11.5 (current unmet need) – 3.4 (total available stock) = net current need
4.2Convert the net figure derived into an annual flow for plan period
4.32.4 (total future need) + 4.2 (annual flow of unmet need)
4.5= Total Annual Flow of future and current need
4.64.5 (total annual need) – 3.5 (annual supply of affordable homes)
4.7= Net Annual Affordable Housing Need
Planning Practice Guidance (MHCLG, 2021) and Strategic Housing Market Assessments: Practice Guidance,
Version 2 (DCLG, 2007)

The first stage in the assessment is to calculate the backlog of affordable housing need. This is a count of the number of homeless households, those in temporary accommodation, overcrowded and concealed households, and those living in unsuitable housing who cannot afford to move. There is a current backlog of four million households in affordable housing need in England. Much of this backlog is excluded from the calculations, leaving the scale of affordability problems significantly under-counted in housing policy.

Overcrowded households and those living in insecure and inadequate housing are excluded from the total calculation of affordable housing need. That’s because only the need for net additional housing is counted. Anyone already housed is not included as needing a new affordable home – however unaffordable and however bad their housing conditions. They are deducted from the total calculation on the grounds that they would free up a home if they were rehoused. That means they never get rehoused.

The backlog of current need is highest in the social housing sector, where the quality of homes has deteriorated because of decades of under-investment, and where the scarcity of homes leaves transfers to more suitable accommodation difficult to obtain. Despite this backlog, households in need in the affordable housing sector will not be included in the total calculation of affordable housing need. The guidance is unambiguous, and in stage 3 of the assessment, local authorities are instructed to subtract “the number of affordable dwellings that are going to be vacated by current occupiers” from the total calculation of need. Households in current need are effectively netted off against the homes they would vacate if they were rehoused; but they cannot be rehoused unless new affordable supply is provided.

Also mostly excluded are households in the private rented sector even if their rent is unaffordable and not covered by housing benefit. Hardly anyone living in private housing is ever counted anyway, because it is assumed that all households in affordable housing need will be registered on local authority housing registers or waiting lists. Housing waiting lists are a very unreliable source of information. To be listed on a local housing register, households must meet specific conditions and to have referred themselves as applicants for affordable housing. Registers can be closed to new applicants and the planning practice guidance in 2007 made clear they were “unlikely to be comprehensive”, but it is rare that alternative sources of data are used.

After calculating the backlog of need, the next step in the assessment of affordable housing need is to predict the number of new households unable to afford to buy or rent at market prices. Local authorities already use a government-mandated formula to predict the number of newly forming households. This formula is used to set overall housing targets and it tells local planning authorities the amount of land they need to allocate for housebuilding. Around 80% of new homes are built by speculative housebuilders and sold to prospective homebuyers so most of the land allocated for housebuilding goes to the private market and results in full-price homes for sale. But not all newly forming households are able to afford market prices.

Using the assessment of affordable housing need, it should be possible for local planning authorities to identify the specific number of new homes that are required to be affordable, and to allocate land for these affordable homes, rather than for full-price housing. This, however, is totally impossible. Firstly, the overall housing targets are calculated using a completely different method from the assessment of affordable housing need – and you can’t compare the two figures. Secondly, planning policy does not allow land to be allocated for a specific type of housing – so you can’t allocate a site just for affordable housing. This means that the projected number of newly forming households who will not be able to afford market housing are counted twice – once in the overall housing target for market housing, and again in the assessment of affordable housing need.

Many new households are not able to afford market prices but they are counted in the target for market housing anyway. There are other households who ‘fall into need’, as planning practice guidance calls it – these are new households who start off in market housing but find they can no longer afford it. Again, it should be possible to combine the calculations of affordable need with the forecasts of household growth to allocate a specific number of affordable homes for new households who fall into need. But the guidance on how to calculate households who fall into need does not even try to do this. Instead, it tells local authorities to count the number of families rehoused as statutory homeless in the previous five year period, and use this as a prediction of future need. Even more bizarre is the instruction in the 2007 guidance, which is still followed, that only households rehoused within a year should be counted. There is no explanation or justification for this. Falling into need is not the same as being homeless and owed a duty of rehousing. And only a very small number of statutory homeless households get rehoused in a year.

In the final stage of assessment, local authorities are required to estimate the future amount of affordable housing that will become available annually for resale or relet and subtract it from the total number of households in need. Local authorities are also instructed to determine the likely supply of new affordable homes to be provided as a percentage of market-led developments. They count affordable homes that have not yet been built, all those with planning permission or in a pipeline of allocated sites, or likely to be built in the lifetime of the plan period of 15-30 years, assuming that all permissions will be built out and planning obligations met in full.  The available and anticipated stock of affordable homes is then subtracted from the gross housing need. This calculation deducts from the total backlog of need all the affordable homes likely to become vacant over the plan period, and all potential affordable homes that may be built during the plan period. This calculation effectively nullifies all households in current need. The possible future supply of affordable homes is subtracted from the total amount of households in need. Anyone who might conceivably be rehoused in the future is not counted in the present. And, since they are not included in the calculation of affordable housing need, they can never be rehoused.

A net total of affordable housing need is obtained by subtracting the available and anticipated stock of affordable homes from gross housing need. The net figure is then converted into an annual flow to provide the evidence base for planning obligations requiring affordable housing contributions from developers. Planning obligations seldom specify a required percentage of affordable housing greater than 35 per cent (excepting the Greater London Authority) no matter how high the total affordable housing need may be. No rationale is provided for seeking a percentage instead of the total requirement of affordable homes.  As it is, the percentage negotiated in planning obligations has no connection to the quantum of need and there is no requirement on local authorities to ensure the delivery of all affordable housing required.

When the percentage of affordable homes provided by developers is insufficient to address need, the only action open to local authorities is to apply an uplift to the overall target for market housing. “An increase in the total housing requirement included in the plan may need to be considered where it could help deliver the required number of affordable homes,” (MHCLG, 2021: 8). In effect, this means allocating more land to developers for expensive homes for sale in the hope that the increase in profits captured from house prices will be enough to encourage developers to build a small percentage of homes to be rented or sold at a discount. The cost of providing additional affordable homes is paid by increasingly unaffordable house prices.

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the town planning movement

In his commanding book, The City and the Grassroots, Manuel Castells (1983: xviii) argued that all major innovations in the built environment and the meaning and structure of society are “the outcome of grassroots mobilisation and demands”. The achievement of statutory town planning was accomplished by the mobilisation of a heterogenous social movement for the popular regulation of property rights. The “town planning movement” in the United States, Western Europe and Australia brought together liberal philanthropists, utopian architects, place-based amenity groups and working-class campaigns for recreation, allied around the need for land reform and land use planning. This social movement was the conscience of town planning, its utopian wing; it promoted the ideal of a society that wanted to be planned for, and that knew what it wanted planning to achieve. 

Town planning and land use regulation were integral to a vision of a society organised around the principle of need rather than the ability to pay. The idealists of public welfare envisaged a landscape where the price mechanism was suspended, and goods and services were available to all on the basis of need. This vision was to be achieved through the public regulation of property rights and land markets, the freezing of property values, the democratic allocation of private land to social needs and the redirection of landed wealth to address public interest goals. In creating the built environment of collective consumption, the town planning movement was seeking to construct and defend a city organised around the use value of land “in contradiction to the notion of the city for profit,” as Castells said (1983: 319). The impact of this voluntary planning movement on the regulation of property rights positions it alongside other social welfare movements in the history of contentious political action that shaped a post-war settlement. Fiona Williams’ (1992: 673) concept of the social welfare movement directs us to the role played by popular mobilisation and grass roots participation in the establishment of New Deal and Welfare State institutions like planning. Williams returns contentious political action to the history of public services in the Global North and points to the active engagement of citizens in the development of statutory services to meet shared needs. 

The early town planning movement was inspired by the power of land use regulation to institute the property rights of a more egalitarian society. “One cannot by permitting random private interests to control the loan of money and the use of land produce a stable and satisfactory modern community,” wrote Lewis Mumford, advocating the public housing programmes of the New Deal in the United States. Town planning was about land reform for the Regional Planning Association of America; “a means for overcoming gross inequalities in the distribution of wealth, for producing more vital kinds of wealth, for restoring the balance between city and country,” as Mumford (1934:15) said. The affordable public housing programme of the New Deal was the culmination of a long campaign against slum landlords by the Settlement House Movement, the nation-wide movement of women’s centres. It was Settlement House activists, Florence Kelley and Mary Simkhovitch who organised the first USA national planning conference in 1909 and founded the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York with its vision of public housing, public land ownership and public land value capture. The town planning movement in Britain was memorably spearheaded by the Garden City Movement, set up in 1899 advocating the reform of private property rights with community land ownership, co-partnership housing and a design template of amenity and urban consolidation. For Raymond Unwin (1909: 2), the purpose of town planning was to put an end to the speculative practices of landowners and developers: “The owner’s main interest, too often his only one, has been to produce the maximum increase in value of ground rent possible for himself by crowding upon the land as much building as it would hold”.  Most of the participants in the town planning movement were not planners. The founders of The City Beautiful movementin the United States were not the luminaries Frederick Law Olmstead Senior and Junior, but the women’s civic groups and suffrage leagues in cities across the States agitating for the public health benefits of urban parks and public spaces. It was the National Council of Women and the Australian Women’s National League who established the first Voluntary Town Planning Associations in Australia in their campaigns over housing conditions and access to parks and public open space.

The rise of the planning profession was accompanied by a flourishing of voluntary planning and amenity groups whose advocacy and research contributed to an expanding body of land use theory and practice. In the 1960s in Britain local campaigns against urban clearances secured the legislative framework for conservation and heritage planning. In the United States, the civil rights movement embraced a passionate vision of popular urbanism and inspired the federal participation programmes, the so-called War on Poverty in 1964 and Model Cities in 1966, and earlier the Community Action or Grey Area projects. Transformed into a national directive for community action, the motto “maximum feasible participation” was seized by the civil rights movement and neighbourhood campaigns to drive an agenda of social reform through urban planning. The early Community Action projects became a platform for radical visions of self-determination; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale left the War on Poverty mandated participation programme in North Oakland to form the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence and forge a formidable movement for neighbourhood control. For a brief time, the Model Cities programmes came under the majority control of Black communities and urban planning was run by residents engaging their own planning expertise. 

Town planning – the statutory regulation of private property rights in the public interest – was not handed down by benevolent paternalists but was fought for and won by a mass public movement. That mass movement – the town planning movement – has been a constant companion to the profession. It is the collective manifestation of public concerns over the rights of property. Those castigated as objecting to housebuilding or opposing development today are participants in the town planning movement and in a contentious struggle over the built and natural environment. 

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The real crisis of housing supply

In all the fuss over housing targets, the absence of any targets for the supply of affordable housing in England has gone largely unnoticed. Not only is there no national target for amount of affordable housing needed each year, but in almost every local authority area, the amount of new affordable housing is only a tiny fraction of what’s needed.

When policy makers and politicians talk of a housing shortage, the real crisis of supply is the lack of affordable housing and the failure to provide homes at really affordable prices. 

In the 20 local planning authorities (LPA) where the so-called crisis of supply is at its worse, it is affordable housing that is in shortest supply. In many of these local authority areas, the supply of affordable housing is just in single figures. 

LPAAnnual Housing Requirement Annual Affordable Housing NeedAffordable Supply 2021-22Affordable Supply as % of need 
Epping Forest8641434431%
Isle of Wight61630415350%
Kensington and Chelsea6711018959%
North Hertfordshire90121512357%
Three Rivers5682149143%
Housing Delivery Test results 2021 and Affordable housing need and supply 2021-22

The table above shows the 20 local authorities with the lowest supply of market housing, as measured by the government’s Housing Delivery Test. The first column shows their annual housing targets. These targets are set by the standard method formula that forecasts the number of new households requiring a home of their own.  These targets are for new housing to purchase at full market price. For details of the standard method see:

The second column sets out the number of new households in that area who cannot afford market prices. This is the local need for affordable housing. Housing need is measured by the local authority, using a method set out in planning practice guidance. The number of affordable homes built in each area is detailed in the third column. Finally, the percentage of affordable homes built, against the number needed, can be seen in the last column.

It is clear from the table that the crisis of supply is a crisis of affordable housing. In some of these local authority areas, no households can afford to buy a full priced home. They need affordable housing and lots of it. In four of the local authority areas, the number of affordable homes required is higher than the target for market housing. These local authorities do not need market housing. They do not need to have targets for market housing. They just need to build affordable housing.

Any local authority where the number of new market homes built is less than 75% of the formula target is judged by the government to have failed the Housing Delivery Test and is  penalised. This can result in the local community losing democratic control over land use planning.

There is no penalty for a local authority that fails to build the amount of affordable housing it needs.

That is the real housing crisis.

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Property, Planning and Protest

Available for pre-order on February 24, 2023. Publication March 17, 2023

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Property, Planning & Protest

The contentious politics of housing supply, by Quintin Bradley

My new book will be published by Routledge in 2023. It is a compelling new investigation into public opposition to housing and real estate development. Situating this movement in a history of land reform and common rights, and the political economy of land value, Property, Planning, Protest sets out a persuasive new vision of democratic planning.

A town planning movement

In this book I argue that the amenity and community groups engaged in the contentious politics of housing supply are the contemporary mobilisation of a town planning movement that has continued to agitate for land reform since the first planning legislation. This amenity movement champions a democratic plan-led system in which land use is allocated to address social need, development rights are effectively regulated, and the benefits of development are distributed to address inequalities. The contentions of amenity groups merit critical attention. The conflict over housing is fought over matters of property rights in which the right to extract value from land is arrayed against the common right to land as the means of production and reproduction. 

Planning against property

I argue that land use planning should be understood as the assignment of property rights. Planning rescinds and assigns development rights; it enables or restricts the land use rights of property owners. It is concerned, then, with deciding competing claims to property rights. As David Harvey (2011: 103) says, these decisions boil down to simple questions: whose side are you on, and whose interests do you seek to protect? The property theorist Laura Underkuffler (1996:  1038) argues that “If we award an individual the right to extract minerals, cut trees, or control land, that same right, [is] necessarily denied to others.” Property rights give to some people what cannot be given to all. They assign control over a finite natural resource, over land, a condition of existence, and in doing so, deny that resource to others. The freedom that property rights supposedly bestow on landowners is wholly contingent on the rule of law and the willingness of the state to protect those rights. Property ownership depends on the state for legal recognition and ultimately relies on the state monopoly on legitimate violence to enforce its exclusions. The allocation of property rights represents choices taken to reward the claim of some individuals and corporations to the ownership and control of scarce resources and to deny the claims of others. “If my right to land is upheld, then your claim to that land is denied. If my right to create pollution, congestion, or erosion is upheld, then your claim to be free of those ills is denied,” Underkuffler (1996: 1042) said. Property cannot be separated from questions of distributional justice. To assign property rights is to distribute resources, and to decide who gets what, where. There is nothing neutral about this. Questions about the kind of society we live in, and the society we want to live in, are intrinsic to these decisions. 

For more details, including multiple extracts from chapters, please go to Property, Planning & Protest

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Planning Protests: the contentious politics of housing supply

In a new book to be published in 2023 by Routledge, I address the growth of community opposition to deregulated housing development. I situate this opposition in a landscape of contentious politics, as a broad-based social movement with its origins in what was once called the town planning movement and in inclusive notions of the public interest in the regulation of property development.  If you would like to help with this project, I am looking for digital photographs of community planning protests to be included in the book. If you have high quality images that you would like to see included please contact me at Please include written permission for the reproduction of the images. Read on for an introduction to the book…

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, and the collapse of investment assets secured on homeowner debt, housing supply has become the new locus of contentious politics. Private equity and investor capital have transformed rental housing into a new asset class, secured risk-insured yields in buy to leave developments and captured inflated land values through urban clearances and state-facilitated gentrification (Rolnik, 2019). A growing crisis of affordability has followed in the wake as supplies of municipal and cost-rental housing are privatised or demolished. The inequities of housing distribution are blamed by nation states and real estate interests on a crisis of under-supply, and this has justified the deregulation of property markets to facilitate further development in land and housing (Gallent, 2019). Social movements have swept across the urban centres of the Global North and South in response. One of the most internationally significant is a popular campaign for the regulation of property development rights and the defense of land use planning protections. 

This community movement is a political force to be reckoned with in urban and rural planning. It is organised around networks of voluntary groups that are actively concerned with, and seek to inform themselves about land use matters.  Many of these amenity groups are networked by national organisations and have their origins in the voluntary town planning movement of the early 20th century (Pendlebury & Hewitt, 2018). These groups monitor and respond to planning applications, encourage public engagement in planning decisions, report breaches of planning conditions, and seek representation in plan-making and public examinations. They may employ planning consultants and brief legal representation to enable them to take effective part in the public examination of local plans. They also deploy more contentious methods including non-violent direct action in protests, rallies and demonstrations. Many of the amenity groups have titles that link their place name with words like ‘save’, ‘stop’, ‘hands off’ or ‘keep it green’. 

In writing about this movement I aim to challenge prejudices and debunk myths. Public opposition to housebuilding is presented as a policy problem and particularly a problem for democratic engagement. The wrong public is participating and has too much influence, so the story goes. But the reason why public objections to housebuilding have emerged as a policy problem is precisely because they challenge the prevailing liberalised model of development planning. Housing is a commodity to be supplied at the highest price possible and under conditions in which its development will yield the best possible value for land.  To oppose housebuilding under these terms is not necessarily to object to the provision of new homes but to reject the commodification of a basic need and the treatment of land and the environment as a financial asset. Opposition to housebuilding emerges in the gap between housing as a commodity and home as a human right and a social need. It calls attention to the relentless expansion of investment capital into land and housing markets and to the failure of statutory planning policies to adequately regulate private property rights and to balance the costs and benefits of development.

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The Eviction of the Public

Plenary presentation by Quintin Bradley at the Housing Studies Association Conference, 11 November 2020

In this plenary session I want to talk about the eviction of specific, informed and concerned publics from public services.

In this talk, I identify three modalities or ways the public has been represented in town planning and housing studies.

Hostility to informed and concerned publics is clearly visible in the Planning White Paper published in England this summer with its promise to close down opportunities for debate and remove democratic oversight.

I argue that the antagonism which now greets an informed and concerned public is the latest episode in a politics of banishment or the eviction of the public from public services and from the collective political projects of human need. 

Our public services were created by self-determined publics, mobilised by their concern. They waged rent strike to create council housing, and mass trespass to create town planning. 

The Skeffington report in 1969 is commonly regarded as the beginning of public participation in English planning. 

But I argue it marked the beginning of the end of planning as a public service. Skeffington was an unusual government report in that it was illustrated. We know from its line drawings that Skeffington had a very clear idea of the public that was to be disciplined by participation. 

This illustrated public was organised and collective. It was the local amenity groups and civic societies networked nationally by the CPRE and what was then the Civic Trust, now Civic Voice.  These two organisations joined a broad public mobilisation of social movements that created the town and country planning system in its post-war institutional framework. They created its most popular institutions: Green Belt, National Parks, Conservation and Heritage. This public established the values and aims of planning as a public service. 

The modality of the public advanced in the Skeffington Report presupposed that planning was not a public service but a statutory one. Skeffington codified the engagement of the public in participation. It channelled public engagement into a ritual in which the issues, the outcomes and the legitimacy of the public themselves was to be defined by the producers. It established a pathology of participation in which the civic actors who had been the architects of planning were denounced as the ‘usual suspects’ and replaced by the imaginary of an innocent public that was open to instruction, yet continually hard to reach. 

What does it take to transform the values of a public service, to turn it around so that it serves the private extraction of value? We can point to privatisation and outsourcing and to the introduction of market devices: tools of calculation drawn from financial services industry.  But the essential first step in the marketisation of a public service like town planning is the containment and dissolution of the organised publics who fought for and upheld its values.

Planning in England now operates within the presumption that private development is in the public interest. The political economies of property and land speculation are regarded as matters of national security to be protected from local democratic challenge.  The most recent modality of the public in planning is as a political threat that requires intervention and sovereign punishment. An imaginary of environmental, animal rights and now climate activism movements as extremists and potential terrorists is waiting to be imported into urban and rural planning. 

Earlier this year I interviewed over 500 members of amenity groups in England who were trying to navigate the contortions of participation in planning. They reported few successes in changing planning outcomes. And their transformation into antagonists rather than stakeholders felt unmerited.  Electoral mobilisations that unseated councillors and saw campaigners voted into local government failed to make any difference to national planning policy. Technologies of participation that claim to recognise difference and seek to enfranchise the disadvantaged cannot even be navigated by citizens who are concerned and informed. 

The politics of banishment starts with the denigration of self-determined publics, of collectives mobilised around issues.  But it expands to define a housing market characterised by foreclosure, eviction and dispossession; in which whole populations are treated as disposable, as un-people. The dissolution of collective publics is the first stage in a continuum of eviction, of banishment, from land, from property, from home and finally from personhood.

In a 2017 article called The Grassroots of Planning,  Ananya Roy reflects on the construction of democratic citizenship that has emerged from informal settlements and social movements in the Global South.  She describes an insurgent citizenship that has planned and built whole neighbourhoods, fought for and established basic infrastructure, devised and provided, with their own hands, collective services. These insurgencies are constructions of the public in the act of creation of democratic public services.  

Public services are the creation and the concern of collective publics. And the public cannot be so easily disentangled.

To be public is to assert personhood. The issues that gave rise to housing and planning as public services continue to mobilise insurgent publics who claim the right to housing, who make a claim on human rights, on the rights of personhood. Who remind us of shared humanity, and the concept of shared needs, and a shared concern for the planning and delivery of those needs.  

To be public is to care; to be concerned; to demonstrate humanity. It is in the agitation of renters’ unions and in the campaigns of amenity groups and civic societies that the public of housing and planning speaks today.  

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Planning for the future

The rationale for the radical shake-up of the English planning system in the Planning White Paper published this August 2020 is the assertion that planning is a constraint on the supply of land for new housing.

This assertion does not appear to be supported by the evidence. Planning is already providing more land than needed to meet the government target of 300,000 homes a year.

Last year (2019) almost 400,000 homes were given planning permission in England but only about 240,000 homes were built.

Over a 10 year period, since 2009, 2.5m homes have been given planning permission but only 1.5m homes built. There would appear to be a backlog of 1m unbuilt homes.

The development industry admits to this backlog. It acknowledges what it calls a lapse rate of on average 40% of homes that are given planning permission but never get built.

This suggests that it is not the planning system that is a constraint on housebuilding but the property industry itself.  Why is that? There are two reasons.

Firstly, landowners and property investors secure residential planning permission for land in order to increase its value.  Residential planning permission can increase the value of land by 100 times. They do not need to develop the land in order to realise this increase in value. Instead they can sell the land at a profit or use it as capital for further investments.

The process of planning reform from 2012 has fuelled an industry in land speculation, defined as the treatment of land as a financial asset rather than as a productive resource. 60 per cent of outline planning permissions are now held by non-builders, landowners, investors and site promoters who have no immediate intention to build the homes that have been approved.

The second reason lies in the poor supply responsiveness of the housebuilding industry itself – a problem identified in every government housing report.  The private housebuilding industry is an inefficient means of meeting housing need since it does not increase supply to meet demand. Instead it provides a drip-feed of homes, purposely keeping to a rate of around 60 homes per site per sales outlet, in order to balance house sales against the need to acquire and manage a pipeline of up to 9 years’ worth of housing land.

The reforms of planning that have taken place since 2012 have encouraged this situation and the proposals in the Planning White Paper will make things worse. 

Liberalising planning – that is, returning development rights to property owners – has encouraged the inefficiencies of the property industry.

The result is that is now takes twice as long to build homes as it did before 2012. 

Land for approximately 150,000 homes is taken out of production annually and sold without being developed.

And the industry now says that it will require 1m homes every year to be given planning permission if it is to achieve a build target of 300,000. 

But what other industry needs a supply chain that is 4 times its annual output ?

At a time of global pandemic when people were being told to stay home, we have a pandemic of homelessness brought about by the deregulation of planning systems.

Planning has been reduced to the mere licensing of property speculation.

But the job of planning should be to identify and meet housing needs  – that is priority housing need – the housing people need but can’t necessarily afford.

Private housebuilders cannot and do not want to meet housing need

Planning reforms like the White Paper and the extension of permitted development rights take us back to a time before planning.

A time of urban sprawl

Of inadequate housing that lacks basic amenities 

Of unplanned and unregulated property speculation

We need to return to a regulatory system that intervenes in land and property markets. One  that can bring down the price of land, capture land values for the public benefit and make housing affordable.

We need a planning system that can bring about a better quality of life for all and a more sustainable future. We need more planning, not less.

Please see my contribution to the report: The Wrong Answers to the Wrong Questions, available on the Town & Country Planning Association website:

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