Voices must be listened to in debates over homes

COMMENT: All agencies must to held to account for Anne Savidge’s tragic death

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The stories on our front-end pages today illustrate how strongly people feel about the subject of housing. Portsmouth and Gosport are densely-populated areas, featuring an island and peninsula respectively, while the boroughs of Fareham and Havant enjoy picturesque rural areas which some residents see as under threat from the encroaching urban sprawl.

While the issues may differ in different parts of south Hampshire, some of the themes are common to all, and today’s stories illustrate the importance of listening. While Nimbyism is used as derogatory term, it would be foolish to discount all issues raised by the public – as the story from Southsea shows.

After pressure from residents worried about the effect of houses of multiple occupation, the city council introduced a guideline to restrict the number of HMOs to 10 per cent of an area.

The council has been vindicated as a government inspector has backed its decision not to allow another HMO in Great Southsea Street, saying that it would be a ‘step in the wrong direction’.

There are dissenting voices – a landlords’ association has pointed out that many young professionals rely on HMOs as they cannot afford to get on the housing ladder – but in this case we see a strong example of voices being heard.

Over in Havant, those worried about proposed sites for housing can take succour from the Southsea decision. It’s a different type of situation, but one about which people feel just as strongly – and so we hope that the results are reflected at the next stage of the planning process. If they are not, it will have failed.

The important thing is that consultation and ‘listening’ exercises cannot be a sham. They must be worthwhile and relevant – and, importantly, transparent, to reassure residents that they are not being ignored by the powers that be. Not every decision will – nor should – go in favour of those with the loudest voice. But we must be sure that all those making points are being heard. That way we can accept with confidence that decisions of vital importance, which will change the face of our area, are made for the greater good.