Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I wonder how many times developers and local authority planning committees have muttered that under their breath recently?
Having a place to live, a safe haven, a roof over your head, is one of our most basic needs and it is understandable that anything that threatens to change that is going to be emotive. But does all change require some sort of public protest?
It is hard to think of a regenerative scheme that has made it from concept through to planning and finally completion without some sort of protest group, website and/or Twitter account trying to take it down.
The latest is Haringey Council’s deal with Lendlease to create a long-term development vehicle that will deliver 5,000 much-needed homes. There was certainly no love lost for either the council or Lendlease during the approval of the partnership at a cabinet meeting on 14 February.
“Lebensraum,” yelled one heckler from the public gallery, citing a policy used by the Nazis during the Second World War to conquer territory outside Germany.
Now, we all know property isn’t entirely philanthropic, but it is not entirely fascist either.
So, what is with protest groups? Why do they protest and, more importantly, how do we stop the need for protest?
People generally join protest groups to achieve goals they are unable to achieve on their own. However, psychological studies have found that people’s motivation to protest is not so much about their own absolute poverty level, but their level of relative poverty. The protestors in Haringey probably have a better lifestyle than the average citizen in Africa, for example, but that’s not what matters. What does matter is that they feel entitled to the same lifestyle as the people they share their city with. In this case, a home they can afford to live in in the place they have always lived.
Back in 2007 economist Robert Frank asked people whether they would prefer to live in a house of 150 sq m in a street full of houses of 200 sq m or a 100 sq m house in a street of 50 sq m houses. Guess which most people chose? The 100 sq m house – despite being the smaller option. Our brains are hard-wired to want to improve our relative standing, to keep up with the Joneses.
In another experiment, social psychologist Naomi Ellemers found that when people find themselves in low status groups with their ability to move to a higher status group blocked, they identify with the lower status group and do all that they can to overthrow the high status group.
It does make sense and there are clearly some situations where a lower status group needs to overthrow a higher status group, but is that always necessary in regeneration?
The problem the real estate industry has with a protesting Joe Public is communication. Some protestors at Haringey were convinced that the council was spending £2bn on the joint venture with Lendlease and had no idea that this was the gross development value of the project or that, as a 50% partner, the council would receive half the profits from the scheme.
For a council that has lost £160m in funding since 2010 and expects to be half its current size by 2020, income is vital. Especially if it wants to enable the borough’s have-nots to have.
It is a difficult conversation to have and there will inevitably be rucks along the way, but if we really want to provide homes for everyone, we need to be using more of the C words – communicate, compromise and collaborate. And that is why we, in association with Mishcon de Reya, will again be delivering EG Collaborators, a project that will investigate how relationships between Joe Public and the private sector can improve, facilitate discussion and showcase some of the best in class. If you would like to get involved, tweet us @estatesgazette using #EGCollaborators.