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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