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Public views of development options in the South East

An exploration of public opinion about new housing in South East England.

Written by:
Stephen Platt, William Fawcett and Robin de Carteret
Date published:

The Housing Futures project explored public opinion about new housing in South East England. Based on interviews and workshops with local and national stakeholders, and a survey of the general public, it reports the views of over 1,400 people in three towns in South East England.

The report draws out lessons for policy-makers, planners and housing providers wishing to consult with the public about future decisions. It also reports in detail on the preferences and attitudes of people living in the South East, and how these might affect planning decisions.


There is a severe lack of affordable housing in South East England and central and local government want to build many more homes. The Housing Futures project by Cambridge Architectural Research Ltd tested the reaction of the general public to development options that would increase the supply of housing.

The findings are based on interviews and workshops with local and national stakeholders together with a survey of public opinion reporting the views of over 1,400 people in three towns in South East England.

The project found:

  • In the survey results, no single development option was favoured. Three development options were marginally more liked than disliked - 'densification', 'urban extension' and 'new town'. Two options - village growth and new settlement - were less liked.
  • There seemed to be no blanket opposition to land being used for development, nor was there a strong preference for the use of brownfield over open land.
  • The favoured options were those with a higher level of service provision. Approval for new town development may be motivated by 'nimbyism', but people may also value the infrastructure that comes with larger scale planned development.
  • Respondents were evenly divided about whether they liked or disliked a policy of minimum growth.
  • Although most people were opposed to high-density flats being built in their area, a substantial proportion found medium-density terraces acceptable (47%). Even higher-density flats were acceptable to a minority (21%).
  • Most first-time buyers (68%) liked detached and semi-detached homes, but a significant proportion would be prepared to live in terraces (49%) and high-density flats (30%).
  • Only a third of people agreed that their town and surroundings should be kept the same. 40% agreed that their region must be allowed to grow.
  • Qualitative data suggest that people believe the main problem is affordability, not housing shortage. They accept new homes are needed but believe quality and affordability are more important than quantity.
  • The researchers conclude that getting the public to engage with problems at a strategic level through proactive consultation can be highly effective. If presented with information about a range of options, people make reasoned choices and compromises.


Housing Futures (1.07 MB)
Smiling woman drinking a cup of tea in a kitchen.

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