The British public needs a "dead baby on the beach" moment, or an "appalling fire where some beautiful young children die" for opinion to change in favour of social housing development, the boss of one of the nation’s biggest housing associations has claimed.

The provocative comments were made by Kate Davies, chief executive of Notting Hill Housing, at Property Week’s RESI Conference in South Wales.

Speaking as part of a panel discussion on the housing crisis, Ms Davies told conference delegates the solution to the nation's housing crisis had to come from a change in public opinion, according to

She said: “You have to get to a tipping point where the change happens. I have met respectable people, reasonable people, even people in this room, and people on housing associations, who when faced with a planning permission for social housing will object to it.

“People will say they don’t want social tenants in my neighbourhood, I don’t want a building to be built near me.

“In a way that’s an unacceptable position to take. Whereas you couldn’t say: 'I don’t like black people, I don’t like fat people, I don’t like gay people'. That isn’t acceptable anymore. Not liking social tenants is seen as acceptable still.”

When asked how these attitudes could be changed and how the housing crisis could be resolved, Ms Davies said: “Now, you see a dead baby on the beach in Turkey, and the attitude to refugees changes overnight. Because somehow that connected to people emotionally in a way that lots of other people dying as refugees had not impacted on people.

“And in housing I think we need two things. Either we need an appalling fire where some beautiful young children die, or a riot. We have to get people to feel differently about housing because it needs a huge effort, it needs a lot of money, and needs to be a political priority.”

'Dramatic analogy'

After the BBC’s Mark Easton, who was chairing the panel discussion, challenged Davies on her comment, the housing association boss defended her position, saying “we need a disaster or a riot” to make the public realise the importance of building affordable homes.

Notting Hill Housing is one of the capital’s largest housing association. Launched in 1963, it now manages over 30,000 properties.

As well as being the chief of the housing association, Miss Davies has several other roles, including one as governor of a mental health trust in Camden. She was previously chief executive of Servite Houses and director of housing in Brighton and Hove.

The housing trust was founded in Notting Hill and still has offices in Hammersmith, providing thousands of affordable homes across London

A spokesman for Notting Hill Housing described Ms Davies as passionate about social housing and said she strongly believes that the problems being faced by those who rely on the sector for a roof over their heads need to be understood more widely than they are at present.

The spokesman added: “Her comments at the conference were intended to make this point by drawing a dramatic and shocking analogy – explaining that one moment, one image, can make a real difference in public perception.

“Where there had been widespread demonisation of refugees, the tragic death of Alan Kurdi marked a distinct change in media and public reaction.

“The demonisation of social housing tenants is something that Kate has spoken against for many years. There needs to be a similar turnaround in attitudes and it may take a ‘Cathy Come Home’ moment to give people an emotional connection to the issue, change the public mood and make housing a political priority.”