The US and the UK may be two nations divided by a common language, but when it comes to their attitude towards real estate development, their citizens are united in common defiance.
“This rising level of opposition will make it tougher – on both sides of the Atlantic – for developers and also politicians who run for election on pro-growth land-use issues,” observes P. Michael Saint, CEO of The Saint Consulting Group, the largest consulting firm in the world to focus on land-use politics [www.tscg.co.uk].
According to The Saint Index© – two separate, parallel formal surveys sponsored by Saint Consulting that asked the same questions of 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Brits – opposition to development is strong in the US, and even stronger in the UK. That is, 73 percent of Americans are against any new development in their communities, compared to 84 percent for British residents. Resistance is especially high in the suburbs, where 83 percent of Americans and 85 percent of British residents oppose any new development in their communities.
The US Saint Index was released in January 2006, and the UK survey, in April 2006. Both were the first-ever study of the confluence of politics, real estate, and business growth in that country. Patrick Fox, Saint Consulting’s Boston-based President, explains that “we believe that these findings will benefit companies that want to understand the source of their active opposition, and what they can do to get more projects approved.” [Toplines are below, graphic summarizing comparative opposition to development is at the end.]
The surveys will be done annually, Fox confirms, serving as a barometer on planning, political, and environmental concerns affecting property development. Since the first results came in, Fox has been asking business leaders in both the UK and US, “Where are you going to locate and how can you grow, if four-fifths of our citizens like their neighbourhoods exactly as they are?”
Toplines: Differences between the US and UK
1. Where do the US and UK differ the most? Housing. The Brits are more likely to oppose new private sector housing [52 percent for flats and 33 percent for houses] than Americans [13 percent]. In fact, private sector housing is the most supported land use in the US, with 75 percent of Americans saying they would support new housing in their communities – though not much else.
One in five homeowners in both countries appear willing to fight to protect the character of their communities and the value of their investment in their homes. Fox calls this “an eye-opening discovery, even for me.” In the UK, 19 percent of the population has opposed a planning application, and 21 percent of the US respondents.
Fox explains: “In both countries, residents are making their voices heard through public hearings, calls to elected officials, petition-gathering, letter-writing, and other forms of protest.” Then what is a developer to do? “Take to the streets; don’t just deal with the local council,” Fox advises. “Because residents are getting far more politically sophisticated, smart developers are doing early outreach and using state-of-the-art political- grassroots organizing techniques.”
“The development industry clearly has not paid enough heed to finding community support for its proposals,” says Nick Keable, who has been Saint Consulting’s Vice President/UK Operations since 2005. He explains that “in the UK, residential development pressure is intense. Only 12 percent of Britain has actually ever been developed; the rest is either undevelopable or protected. While this proportion gives the UK a special character, the dearth of developable land exacerbates the situation and creates incredibly high land values. That’s why residential development is such an issue and the Government’s theoretically pro-development stance is seriously unpopular.”
2. Grocery turns up as another major US/UK difference: Supermarkets – the second most acceptable land use in the US [63 percent] – are opposed in the UK by 57 percent of residents.
Wal-Mart, which sells groceries but not as its main line of business, is opposed by 63 percent of Americans, while the UK’s giant Tesco, which primarily sells groceries with other products as a lesser emphasis, meets with 57 percent opposition. Sounding Americans’ love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart, the Saint Index learned that two-thirds of the respondents to the question about the company would oppose a Wal-Mart store if one were proposed in their community but welcome having one nearby.
3. UK/US view the political process regarding development differently. Americans survey respondents turn out to be more cynical about the process and the politics of development. Fox calculates that 70 percent of Americans believe that the relationships between elected officials and developers make the approval process unfair, compared to 50 percent of those surveyed in the UK.
Going into last May’s local elections, 72 percent of UK respondents felt that a candidate’s position on growth and development was “critical” to how they would cast their vote. Americans, who face elections on 7th November, indicated that 93 percent felt similarly. “Candidates for office are forewarned,” Fox states, A veteran political campaign advisor, he sees that “all land use has become highly politicized and adversarial. And it is going to get worse.”
“Brits are less critical and less litigious than the average American,” Keable observes; “It’s much harder to get the average Brit engaged. But that’s changing rapidly. We are becoming more outspoken, more American.”
Growth in the UK is a complex political issue. The UK Government recently brought forward proposals for developers to pay a Planning Gain Supplement, taxing the uplift in value of land that has planning permission. “The Government has temporarily backed down,” Keable notes, “after considerable lobbying from the UK property industry. The net result would have been less development – especially of housing – which is the opposite of what the Government wanted.”
NIMFYE enters the development lexicon. Commenting on the Saint Index/UK, the 17th March real estate editor of The Times refers to the popular US phrase, NIMBY, this way: “NIMBYism is becoming a trait that binds the British, a national characteristic that defines us in the same way that queuing used to do.” She explained that NIMBY is being supplanted by an attitude of “NIMFYE – not in my front yard, either.”
Survey organizations: The American survey was conducted for The Saint Consulting Group by the Centre for Economic and Civic Opinion at the University of Massachusetts/Lowell, while Communicate Research, a private-sector research organization based in London, carried out the UK survey.
- The Saint Consulting Group is based near Boston in the US. With a staff of 65, Saint advises on political planning issues from 12 offices, including London, which serves European clients. Since 1983, the £18-million company has specialized in winning political planning battles, and in protecting clients from unwanted competition. Principal industries served are aggregates, casinos, landfill/waste management, grocery and retail, mixed-use developments, housing, and utilities. Saint Consulting has consistently experienced an over-90 percent success rate.
- The Saint Index©/US resumes its annual research this fall and Saint Index/UK, next spring. Saint Index/Canada will happen in early 2007, a few months after Saint Consulting’s Toronto office officially opens.
- Need more on the surveys? Please visit the media resource section of www.tscg.co.uk.
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Profile of US and UK opposition to development
According to two surveys conducted by
The Saint Consulting Group in 2006
Percent of opposition
|Wal-Mart / Tesco|
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