Features

The myth of the housing crisis

We’re destroying green belts and despoiling villages for the sake of a moral crusade based on developers’ propaganda

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

There is no such thing as the English countryside. There is my countryside, your countryside and everyone else’s. Most people fight just for theirs. When David Cameron told the BBC’s Countryfile he would defend the countryside ‘as I would my own family’, many of its defenders wondered which one he meant. In the past five years a national asset that public opinion ranks with the royal family, Shakespeare and the NHS, has slid into trench warfare. Parish churches fill with protest groups. Websites seethe with fury. Planning lawyers have never been busier. The culprit has been planning reform.

My files burst with reports from the front, each local but collectively a systematic assault on the appearance of rural England. In Gloucestershire, Berkeley Castle gazes across the vale of the Severn to the Cotswolds as it has since the middle ages. It is now to face fields of executive homes. Thamesside Cookham is to be flooded not by the river but by 3,750 houses. The walls of Warwick Castle are to look out over 900 houses. The ancient town of Sherborne must take 800.

So-called ‘volume estates’ — hundreds of uniform properties rather than piecemeal growth — are to suburbanise towns and villages such as Tewkesbury, Tetbury, Malmesbury, Thaxted, Newmarket, Great Coxwell, Uffington, Kemble, Penshurst, Hook Norton, Stow-on-the-Wold, Mevagissey, Formby. Every village in Oxfordshire has been told to add a third more buildings. Needless to say there is no local option.

Developer lobbyists and coalition ministers jeer at those who defend what they regard as ‘chocolate-box England’. But did Cameron mean so radically to change the character of the English village and country town? These are not just chocolate boxes. The list embraces the country round Durham, Gateshead, Rotherham, Salford, Redditch, Lincoln and Sandbach. Such building will ‘hollow out’ town centres. Three-quarters of hypermarket approvals are now out of town, even as this market collapses. The green belt is near meaningless. The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates some 80,000 units are now proposed for greenbelt land.

The coalition’s planning policy was drafted in 2011 by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles’s ‘practitioner advisory group’. This group is a builders’ ramp, composed of Taylor Wimpey and others. Councils were told that either they could plan for more building or it would proceed anyway. Brownfield preference was ended. Journey-to-work times were disregarded. Fields could sprout unregulated billboards. ‘Sustainable’ development was defined as economic, then profitable.

The draft proved so bad it had to be amended. But the disregard of local wishes and bias against rural conservation remained. As with siting of wind and solar installations, the centre knew best. Whereas 80 per cent of new building before 2010 had been on serviced land within settlements, this has now shrunk to half.

The most successful tactic of the rural developers was the hijacking of ‘the housing crisis’. They claimed the crisis could only be ended by building in open country, even when their wish was for ‘executive homes’. This ideal of land lying enticingly ‘free’ for homeless people acquired the moral potency of the NHS.

[Alt-Text]


Housing makes politicians go soft in the head. An old Whitehall saw holds that England ‘needs’ 250,000 new houses a year, because that is how many households are ‘formed’. The figure, a hangover from wartime predict-and-provide, takes no account of occupancy rates, geography of demand, migration or housing subsidy, let alone price. Everyone thinks they ‘need’ a better house.

Yet this figure has come to drive a thousand bulldozers and give macho force to ideologues of left and right, whose ‘own’ countryside is somewhere in France or Italy. Few Britons are homeless. Most enjoy living space of which the Japanese can only dream. Yet the Economist magazine cites the 250,000 figure at every turn. The Institute of Economic Affairs wails that housing has become ‘unaffordable for young people’. A recent FT article declared, ‘The solution to the housing crisis lies in the green belt.’

This is all nonsense. The chief determinant of house prices is wealth, subsidy and the supply of money. During the credit boom, prices soared in America and Australia, where supply was unconstrained. Less than 10 per cent of Britain’s housing market is in new building. Although clearly it is a good thing if more houses are available, there is no historical correlation between new builds and price.

Neil Monnery’s Safe as Houses is one of the few sane books on housing economics. It points out that German house prices have actually fallen over half a century of steady economic boom. The reason is that just 43 per cent of Germans own their own homes, and rarely do so under the age of 40. The British figure hovers between 60 and 80 per cent. Germans are content to rent, a more efficient way of allocating living space. They invest their life savings elsewhere, much to the benefit of their economy.

The curse of British housing, as another economist, Danny Dorling, has written, is not under-supply but under-occupancy. In half a century, Britons have gone from ‘needing’ 1.5 rooms each to needing 2.5 rooms each. This is partly caused by tax inducements to use houses as pension funds, partly by low property taxes and high stamp duty on transfers. Britain, Dorling says, has plenty of houses. It just uses them inefficiently, though high prices are now at last shifting the market back to renting.

London’s housing has been ‘in crisis’ for as long as I can remember. Yet its under-occupancy is remarkable. Famously its annual growth could fit into the borough of Ealing if it was developed at the density of inner Paris. The agents Stirling Ackroyd have identified space in the capital for 500,000 new houses without encroaching on its green belt. The reality is that housing ‘need’ (that is, demand) is never met in booming cities, only in declining ones.

This has nothing to do with building in the countryside. Past policies aimed at ‘out-of-town’ new towns and garden cities merely depopulated cities and duplicated infrastructure. Central Liverpool and Manchester (like Shoreditch) numbered their voters in hundreds rather than tens of thousands. A rare architect wise to these things, Lord Rogers, recently wrote that this led to ‘new town blues, lifeless dormitories, hollowed-out towns and unnecessary encroachment on green sites’. Sprawl was about profit, not planning.

The answer to housing a rising population has to lie in towns and cities, in reducing the pressure on commuting and raising the efficiency of infrastructure. Cities are where people and jobs are, and where services can be efficiently supplied. England’s urban population per acre is low by world standards, half that of New York or Paris, yet even so its housing occupancy is low. A boost to urban densities — not just empty towers along the Thames — is a sensible ‘green’ policy.

England’s countryside will clearly change over time. Its occupants no longer farm it, and are more often retired or commuters. Yet its amenity is clearly loved by the mass of people who visit, enjoy, walk and play in it. Its beauty in all weathers remains a delight of living and moving about in this country. England made a mess of its cities after the war. The rural landscape is its finest environmental asset.

Any civilised society regulates the market in scarce resources, including those of beauty. It guards old paintings, fine buildings, picturesque villages, mountains and coasts. England is the most crowded of Europe’s big countries, yet a past genius for policing the boundary between town and country has kept 80 per cent of its surface area still visually rural in character. This has been crucially assisted by the 14 urban green belts created in the 1950s by a Conservative, Duncan Sandys.

I am sure the way forward is to treat the countryside as we do urban land. It should be listed and conserved for its scenic value — as it is for its quality as farmland. I would guess this would render sacrosanct a ‘grade one’ list of roughly three quarters of rural England, to be built on only in extremity. The remaining grades would enjoy the protection of a ‘presumption against development’, but a protection that would dwindle down the grades to ‘of limited local value’.

One feature of such listing is that green belts could be redefined. Those of minimal amenity value would be released in favour of belt extension elsewhere. It is stupid to guard a muddy suburban field while building over the flanks of the Pennines.

In making these judgments we need to rediscover the language of landscape beauty, fashioned by the sadly deceased Oliver Rackham and others. Without such language, argument is debased and money rules. The policy of ‘let rip’, adopted by both major parties at present, means that England’s countryside is having to fight for each wood and field alone. At which point I say, praise be for nimbys.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
  • Roy

    The open countryside is the last vestige of the old country I knew and treasure. If you can still walk down a country lane, you can at least forget for the time being how the city is being given over to a new type of English settler. Many of the old landmark buildings are still there as in your childhood, but the people passing beneath in their shadow are not descendants of those lying in the churchyard, they are a new breed. They represent a policy put together by our political representatives to ensure the ones who’s country it is, or should be, do not inherit the country of their birth but are detailed to share it, whether they like it or not.
    Never mind that people come here from darkest Africa, the Indian sub continent, or the sun-baked desert steppes, but really there is little room for them. We now commence despoiling the green countryside to make way.
    One supposes we shouldn’t be surprised, they have allowed the country to descend to this pitch of deterioration, what is left? They have been allowed the thin edge of the wedge and continue to use it. Soon there will be little left to chip into

  • HJ777

    Simon Jenkins is correct – we should build more higher density housing in towns and cities. This doesn’t mean tower blocks – it means medium rise (4-7 storeys, typically) within reach of local amenities, instead of sprawling low rise toytown estates only accessible by car.

    We must remove planning rules that enforce low level building only and we should introduce a ‘land tax’ element to Council Tax to encourage more efficient land use.

    • Rupert Williams

      AGreed.

  • JonBW

    Excellent article, but I’m afraid that it may be too late.

    The Conservative Party under Cameron was supposed to value the countryside but it has shown that it is in the pocket of an alliance of the Housing Lobby and developers who are happy to see it disappear.

    The real problem is that we have too big a population for the number of jobs in the economy, and that the jobs are not in the places where housing is cheap and available.

  • http://www.readmypoems.co.uk/ Ali

    Except the ‘nimbys’ don’t get anywhere. Our campaign to protect a piece of grade one arable land from development by industry went as high as it could and Eric Pickles gave it the thumbs up, despite the fact that the purpose built (also on grade one arable land) industrial estate paid for at great expense by grants from the EU, and less than half a mile away, is totally empty apart from two units. The reason industry wanted to build on the farm land was because the purpose built land on the industrial estate is many times more expensive. But the developer claimed jobs would be created if he built on the field, whereas somehow they wouldn’t be if he built on the nearby industrial estate. The planning system appears to be broken, the Tories have betrayed their grass roots supporters. I don’t think our local Conservative MP will get many votes from the people of the village in which he lives this time round.

  • Ken

    A truly excellent polemic and overdue. The comments on under-occupancy etc are sound as is the general message that the UK can accommodate new housing development without despoiling precious rural landscapes. However, the issue of immigration cannot be ignored: the predicted population increase in the next decade or two is frightening.

  • WillyTheFish

    The ‘Housing Crisis’ – like unemployment, a crumbling NHS, indeed many of our social and economic problems as a nation – is the result of mass immigration. The solution is obvious.

    • Rupert Williams

      No it’s not!

      It’s due to sustained government mismanagement over several decades.

  • JabbaTheCat

    “We’re destroying green belts and despoiling villages for the sake of a moral crusade based on developers’ propaganda”

    Yawn, Jenkins off on his nimby rant again…

    • CortexUK

      I wonder in which one of his three houses he penned this nonsense…

      But remember, it’s all our fault for wanting to own the roof over our own head!

  • FactsnotJenkins

    Addressing all the nonsense in this article would take all day, but, to take one example, the NPPF practitioner group was not a “builders’ ramp”. It had just one developer executive on it. Other members included a Conservative councillor from a rural area and someone from the RSPB. Read what it actually says and it is about councils properly finding land to meet the needs of increasing numbers of households (the main driver of which is population ageing, international migration is trivial), but it is also strong on the protection of valuable landscapes and the historic built environment.

    • Aethelflaed

      International migration (ie immigration) is trivial – what planet are you on?

  • John Carins

    What Jenkins says is obvious and sensible. Establishment politicians don’t do obvious and sensible – when have they ever? Only UKIP has similar ideas as proposed in this article.

  • colin wiles

    Simon “three homes”Jenkins keeps trotting out this tired old nonsense, which is strewn with factual errors (90 percent of England is countryside, the RSPB and a conservative councillor sat on the NPPF advisory committee, the green belt is not “near meaningless”).

    But he writes in the great tradition of snobs like Betjeman, Joad and Williams Clough Ellis who hated the notion of the proles invading their precious countryside. His scorn for “executive homes” gives the game away (“I am a young executive, no cuffs than mine are cleaner” wrote a mocking Betjeman). For Jenkins, it’s a case of “do as I say not as I do” and he should be ashamed of his hypocrisy.

    The answer to our housing problems lies both in our cities and in the countryside and complaining about under-occupation without recognising that it is mostly elderly wealthy home-owners like him who are the worst offenders is disingenuous. How can London possibly house its growing population (8.6 million and rising) within its borders (set in 1965) without ending up looking like Hong Kong? There are 12 million hectares of “countryside” in England. If we built new homes on less than 1 percent of it we would create 3 million new homes, enough to meet our needs for years to come and guess what? The proportion of England that is built upon would increase from 10 percent to 10.7 percent.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Don’t know where you got your figures from but the total area of England , including built up areas is 13m ha When you strip out marginal areas, like the Pennines, and distant areas where people wouldn’t be living, you get down to an available area of 2m ha to take these 3 million homes.

      As you can get on average 75 homes per ha that would consume some 40,000 ha or about 2% of some of the most valuable agricultural land that we desperately need to feed ourselves, which we aren’t for we used to feed 75% of our needs, that has fallen to about 55% .

      • colin wiles

        Nonsense. “Valuable agricultural land”? Don’t make me laugh. About 600,000 ha in England have horses on them, providing no food benefits whatsoever. That’s about half of the “built up” area of England. There is more land in Surrey devoted to golf than homes – again, no agricultural value whatsoever. And who says we need to feed ourselves? In wartime perhaps, but we are a modern economy, not a peasant economy.

        • Blindsideflanker

          One moment you suggest that squeezing people into London would be intolerable, the next dismissing other peoples need for space. Hypocrite!

          And yes valuable agricultural land, for most of the space gobbled up for these houses would be in the SE . like around my parents village, where they are planning to dump 15,000 on fields that are currently growing wheat.

          • colin wiles

            Oh, so it’s a personal nimby situation is it? It’s funny how people can always find an excuse for opposing homes near them and they are rarely prepared to see the bigger picture about a growing and ageing population. How can you possibly compare someone’s need for a few square metres that they can call home with other people’s “need” to have hundreds of hectares to keep horses and hit a small ball around? Around London there are thousands of hectares of useless land in the “green belt” that have no agricultural use whatsoever.

          • colin wiles

            Oh, I was going to place a bet that you would be playing the UKIP card before too long, but I see you have already mentioned the racist party in the comment below. You can see my riposte to Jenkins here – http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/blogs/the-myth-of-the-housing-crisis/7008480.blog

          • Aethelflaed

            Green belt has 5 purposes – none of which are agricultural use. Your use of personal abuse in your posts seems to be pretty typical of deverlopers and their ilk.

          • colin wiles

            Personal abuse? Pretty mild compared to some of the stuff in these comments. And I’m neither a developer nor “their ilk”

          • Aethelflaed

            You are a housing consultant Mr Wiles – so you belong in ‘their ilk’ category.

          • colin wiles

            Interesting that you should amend your previous comment. Too much like personal abuse? My concern is for the millions of people who are priced out of the housing market and living in bad housing.

          • Garry Walton

            How many times have you been entertained by developers Colin? Rounding up to nearest hundred will be fine.

          • colin wiles

            How many times have you been entertained by agribusiness consultants to argue in favour of the housing crisis Gary?
            Did you see what I did there? Neither of us can prove jack all either way so best not to start, what?

          • Dogsnob

            You don’t like horses do you?

          • Rupert Williams

            Hi Colin – what matters is not whta YOU think people should be doing with their land, it is what THEY want to do with it that matters.

            I happen to agree that a substantial deregulation of the planning laws in green belt land would be a good thing provided it was left to market forces to decide what how and where.

            Planning should be localised with different hurdles to cross depending on the size of the development for example if an individual or a farmer wished to build a house on his land for whatever then it should be nodded through.

            If a developer or his ilk wished to plonk 6000 rabbit hutches in an orchard, because there are all sorts of issues about access, sewage, school and hospitals etc living as we do in an excessively socialised country, then the planning level would obviously have to be higher and involve the developer paying for the additional expense plus all incidental costs, plus possibly also a consideration to local residents for loss of amenity, or loss of value to other homes in the area.

            Developers should also have to provide flood insurance as well.

            Used correctly market mechanisms are quite sufficient to deal with this problem.

            It doesn’t sound like rocket science to me but politically tricky as people get very hot under the collar.

          • Garry Walton

            Useless land? I suppose trees and birds are useless too, idiot!

        • pobinr

          I don’t want to see any more country side lost for breeding boxes for immigrants here just to make low wage employers richer thanks

          • vanLomborg

            In a low inflation, low wage growth, low commodity prices, low ‘agricultured’ society, where is the growth coming from to pay for the next generation’s pension?

        • rtj1211

          ‘Who needs energy in peacetime – we are a modern economy!’

          ‘Who needs anything but gambling terminals in the City and money laundering operations for drug cartels? We are a modern economy….’

          We are going bankrupt because in peacetime we relied on OPEC to supply us with oil and gas…………….and then Ed Miliband told us to supply ourselves using wind turbines…….

          You’ll be telling me next that the french supplying us with nuclear energy is cost-effective, that the Americans will supply us with food once they’ve colonised Ukraine and Big Ag owns all the prime agricultural land.

          Every sane economy knows that supplying itself with food staples is common sense. Once you can’t feed yourself, blackmail is inevitable – ‘if you don’t do so and so, we’ll starve you……’, so you beg to someone else, who puts their prices up.

          You can’t delay on food, water and heating in winter.

          If you do, your people die.

          A fine Prime Minister you’d make…….

          • Rupert Williams

            Such a nonsensical post it’s hard to know where to start!

        • Garry Walton

          Good idea Colin, stop feeding yourself!

        • ‘ere we go

          It is potentially good agricultural land. If rich and influential people acquire it for leisure pursuits that is a shameful and foolish Planning issue. Where we lose our resources for self sufficiency we are exposed to foreign influence.

      • Guest

        Please stop feeding yourself Colin

    • Des Demona

      Yes but that 0.7% is vital to ………. something. Definitely something, and if it goes then don’t come crying to me when you no longer hear the questing vole feather-footing through the plashy fen!

    • Aethelflaed

      Andrew Whitaker of the Homebuilders Federation, boasts that he wrote the NPPF !! And, without Betjeman St Pancras would have been lost for a mess of pottage.

    • thomasaikenhead

      A simply brilliant comment!

  • Blindsideflanker

    We could remove half of the housing shortage/demand at instant, all we need is to get a government which calls a halt to mass immigration.

    Mass immigration is a disaster where ever you look

    I gather the numbers to be released today on mass immigration will show they are at their worst ever.

    Today we also learn that mass immigration is substitution policy of bright people for intellectually challenged people.

    And earlier this week we got an Ernst and Young report that said mass immigration was depressing the wages here, and leading to low productivity.

    I suppose if the British establishment wants a ,low wage, low skill, low productivity country, the last people you want here are bright people.

    • Gwangi

      Totally correct. I am sick and tired of politicians and talking heads spouting piffle about the need to build more homes. Completely wrong-headed. We need fewer people, not more homes. We can do that by chucking out overstaying immigrants and cutting many more; getting control of our borders back from the EU too.
      Plus we can, using the tax system, make buying a house in London especially and leaving it empty something that will gain huge costs. Plenty of wasteland sites in cities which could be built on.
      Plus we can encourage married couples to stay together by making divorce difficult and costly – that causes the need to 2 homes when a married couple and kids need one. Really, like today for families without a nice big house is truly miserable compared to the 1970s – supposedly the decade of chaos and suffering. yeah right!
      But the main issue we have is that 30 years ago the UK had 56 million people and now it has 62 million, with 70 predicted by 2020. This problem affects England, not Scotland and Wales.

  • Mr Creosote

    The usual Nimby nonsense from Simon “3 homes” Jenkins.
    Only two of the examples are in Green Belt : Tewkesbury, Tetbury, Malmesbury, Thaxted, Newmarket, Great Coxwell, Uffington, Kemble, PENSHURST, Hook Norton, Stow-on-the-Wold, Mevagissey, FORMBY.

    Rather undermines his underlying argument !

  • Tim Almond

    In order to create a beautiful countryside, we should consider homes in the countryside as a blight and start knocking down those that are already there. I will personally volunteer to lead the wrecking crew to demolish Mr Jenkins’ homes so that he can go and live in an abandoned cave.

  • pobinr

    Vote LibLabCon – Get more of this;

    * Low wage immigrants entitled to more than they pay in tax from child benefit, social housing, family tax credits, NHS, subsidised nursery care, translators

    * People entitled to come here & work on low wage then go on benefits forever

    * Poor low population density countries made poorer by losing their workforce

    * Every other name on Southampton Maternity unit cots is East European

    * Cheap imported labour that drives wages down & take jobs from locals

    * Classes full of kids that need special lessons in speaking basic English

    * Being told it’s just Daily Mail fiction when we see it with our own eyes

    * Cheap EU loans to move UK factories to Eastern Europe & Turkey

    * A trojan horse of thousands of Islamists who hate & want to kill us

    * Free pension top ups for EU migrants that have been here a year

    * £600k a day going in child benefits to children in Eastern Europe

    * 28,000 or is it 5,000 Romanians I don’t care, held for crimes

    * More large character family houses knocked down for flats

    * Being told how to run our borders by an unelected Maoist

    * Eight year waiting list for social housing in Southampton

    * People free to come & go from disease ridden countries

    * Higher house prices & rents due to increased demand

    * Higher crime per capita commited by immigrants

    * 80% of fish that swam in our waters given away

    * More crowded surgeries & longer NHS queues

    * More dependance on food & energy imports

    * More & more centralised control by the EU

    * A new house needed every 7 minutes

    * Worst housing shortage since WWII

    * More & more houses on greenbelt

    * Oversupply of unskilled workers

    * Overburdonned infrastructure

    * More & more road congestion

    * More risk of power cuts

    * Child grooming gangs

    * People traffickers

    * More pollution

    It is the responsibility of every government to control the quality & quantity of people that come to its shores. We cannot do that while we are in the EU. Meaning we cannot plan for the number of schools, hospitals, roads, houses infrastucture etc.

    We cannot decide who has skills we need so as to manage the skill mix needed by employers and prevent overpopulation.

    Summary = We’re overruled & overun

    They’ll keep coming here until we’re as poor as them

    Being in the EU with open borders to poor countries is the equivalent of taking the locks of your front door & then being told how to run your affairs by your neighbours

    So vote UKIP, the party not of the left or the right

    Simply the party that’s right !

    How the EU is dismantling democracy in Europe;

    Nigel Farage of UKIP exposes the unelected crooks & recycled Communists running the EU >

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWSYMpuCFaQ

    Nigel Farage sums up the EU here brilliantly
    I love this bit that is so true 24 mins in – ‘The EU is proposing taking another Trillion Euros from European taxpayers despite the fact that the accounts haven’t been signed off for 18 years in a row. If the EU was a company all the directors or in this case the Commisioners would all be in prison’
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJHETdxwv8Y

    Remote control by the EU >
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtQt2IjeLVc

    EU new Soviet Union ?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92Vjc_PeYtc

    Vote Tory get Communist EU Quisling >

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNr3fXXK92s

  • pobinr

    Romanian population density = 3rd of what it is here.

    Polish population density = just over half of what it is here

    They’re all traveling in the wrong direction when they come here

    You only have to come back from France.

    The moment you get out of the tunnel or off the ferry & onto one of our motorways you can see this country is choked up.

    Mass immigration is madness

    Open border policy is totally irresponsible.

    We don’t have the houses, the land, the schools, the infrastructure etc etc

    And I for one don’t want to see any more of our countryside concreted over to build breeding boxes for people we don’t need here. Most of whom are simply making min wage employers richer at the expense of our quality of life

    Free booklet on what the politicians don’t want you to know about the EU http://tinyurl.com/mqx92yq

    Vote UKIP

  • CortexUK

    DEVELOPER (de-vel-op-er) noun
    Someone who wants to build houses in the countryside. Opposed by conservationists (cf).

    CONSERVATIONIST (con-ser-va-tion-ist) noun
    Someone who owns a house in the countryside.

  • CortexUK

    Isn’t it funny how most people opposed to building in the countryside see no problem with property development on green fields so long as it stopped the moment the last tile was pinned to the roof of their own house? Or were their houses built on naturally-occurring concrete hard standings?

    Maybe the government should introduce a new policy to take down the private houses blighting the green belt: buy them up through compulsory purchase orders, paying the value of farmland without planning permission. About £3,000 an acre should do it. What do you think, Simon “three homes” Jenkins? Out in six weeks, into a nice rented microflat with three rooms and two windows, made of wood and plasterboard?

    Towns and cities? You mean the ones filled to bursting point, where children will increasingly grow up not seeing green spaces or trees until they go on day trips to the 92% of Britain which is contiguous, undeveloped green space? Ah yes, England is most crowded in Europe. How convenient of you to take the most crowded region of our country, but not compare it to the most crowded parts of Germany, Holland and Belgium – all of which have much, much more crowded regions. Not that it’s relevant.

    And note he’s yet another (multiple) home owner who demands British people follow the Germans and reject the concept/ambition of home ownership. How dare you implicitly criticise people for wanting to own the roof over their head. What arrogance and selfishness. What, looking to start a portfolio or something?

    People have the right to use their property how they want. How dare you criticise how many rooms people need or want. In which one of your three houses did you write this nonsense?

    Either build more houses in the countryside or forcibly eject at least 3 million people. Your choice. Stop being an utter weasel and come out for one. From any of your three houses which were built on a once green field.

  • AQ42

    “The curse of British housing, as another economist, Danny Dorling, has
    written, is not under-supply but under-occupancy. In half a century,
    Britons have gone from ‘needing’ 1.5 rooms each to needing 2.5 rooms
    each.”

    But we have the smallest homes in Europe. People aspire to houses where there is a bedroom for each child, a guest bedroom for when the grandparents come to stay, a bit of garden, somewhere to park the car and store the children’s bikes, and enough room to keep the things we now need. What is wrong with that? Half a century ago, many, and possibly most, homes did not have central heating, meaning that in the 8 or 9 months of cold weather people were forced into one or two heated rooms. Now we have the technology to heat whole houses, people, even within families, want some space of their own. Now, too, more people work from home and need space for that. Instead, we get new build homes which do not have anywhere to store a standard vacuum cleaner out of sight. Under Labour we got lots of city centre 2 bedroom flats that were suitable for couples or sharing young people, but disastrous for families.

    The curse of British housing is too many people chasing too few poor quality overpriced houses. The solution lies in building more houses and/or reducing (or at least stopping the growth of) the population.

    • CortexUK

      Notice how Simon Jenkins criticises people for wanting more than 1.5 rooms per person, yet fails to point out to his readers that he owns … drum roll please … three houses.

      The selfish arrogance of the man is utterly astounding.

  • Mukkinese

    Good grief!

    Talk about defending privilege. We all know very well that the ludicrous price of housing in this country is not because there is enough to go around and that such prices suit developers very well, but serve the ordinary family badly. Most of the new developments are for so-called “luxury flats”. Boris was caught selling off social housing stock to developers who wanted to build new homes non of the present residents could hope to afford.

    As for protecting the greenbelt, what Jenkins really means is protecting the views from his various homes, “Good God we don’t want those plebs moving in near us!”

    As usual from this “commentator”, more narrow-minded, short-sighted, self-serving nonsense…

  • ConallBoyle

    ‘Under-occupancy’ — what a hoot! Why shouldn’t folk have a bit more room? Here in the UK we have to squeeze into the crapiest little rabbit-hutch houses of all. Build more, build bigger, give the people space!

  • Molly NooNar

    I do find it remarkable how successfully, people that value their local area can be tarnished as selfish, intransigent and stubborn. Today’s parlance is that to be thought of as either a Nimby or a ‘scrounger’ makes you today’s immoral and unreasonable folk devil that is so ignorant that they are apparently damaging the prospects of future prosperity for many. It is absolute rubbish.

    This Tory quest for economic growth at all costs is outrageous, rigging the planning system in favour of developers (that donate nice sums to the Conservative election machine and the pockets of MPs to get on these panels). Let us hope these rural areas awaken and punish the Tories that have done and plan to do so much damage to rural areas. How dare anyone oppose the nanny state government that knows best for us all. The Green groups opposing fracking in their local areas are called ecoterrorists when 99% of the public in a national consultation said they don’t want fracking! God forbid anyone be entitled to have interests or values that trump economic considerations.

  • MK
    • Molly NooNar

      All it does is accuse Jenkins of class warfare. I don’t think that’s true though. There is something unique about our rural landscape and the fact that I can’t live there or afford to live there doesn’t make me want thousands of houses built in places were local people strongly object to it.

      • MK

        Only a small proportion of our countryside will need to be built on to solve the housing crisis. Yes, some potentially nice countryside will be sacrificed and there’ll be some whining from the NIMBYs, but worth sacrificing to solve the crisis that young people face.

        And anyway, the most beautiful areas in my opinion are quite a way away from cities and won’t be affected by development.

  • Ivor MacAdam

    The great property crisis is just a Ponzi scheme, which should be stopped before it fails. Not heaving the entire population of Africa or wherever into this country would reduce the need for mass building from the construction lobby. It’s like a religion – they turn into whooper swans – “Peeeeple neeeed hooooooomes!” they squeal. And when another bit of England’s green and pleasant vanishes under concrete, Hallielouuuuuuuya!. Remove the cause and ditch the effect. Ivor Macadam

  • The Orbital Garden

    “The curse of British housing, as another economist, Danny Dorling, has written, is not under-supply but under-occupancy.”

    This may be true but unless you are going to propose a way to get these home better distributed we will need new homes.

    The wealthy (and old) are living in more homes with more space than ever before. The young and poor are cramped into the remainder. Their are 3.3 million young adults living with parents unable to move out due to lack of properties.

    No party will (or should) suggest taking large homes away from the empty nesters and retiries living allone as it will be unpopular; so the only realistic option is build more.

  • Roger James Michael Sutherland

    Perhaps Mr Cameron has been consulting the Communist Manifesto for more advice on how to ruin the country. He might have been inspired by Marx and Engels’ call for the “abolition of all the distinction between town and country”.

    Wind turbines could be doing more damage where I live, but it would definitely be a depressing thing if the population density were to be increased because of a rotten contrived “housing crisis”.

  • Cobbett

    Banksters and foreigners are buying up London. Millions of immigrants flood into the country. Large areas of England look like you’re in a Third World country. Honestly, who gives a toss anymore? Time to pan the Great Escape.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    So speaks a well to-do-man from the comfort of his own homes(s) bought a long time ago.

  • pobinr

    Biggest threat to greenbelt = A new home needed every 7 minutes due to mass immigration.
    VOTE UKIP

  • KilowattTyler

    It would help if we don’t repeat the planning and building mistakes of the past. In London tower blocks are going up; elsewhere we have estates of ‘executive homes’ (nasty noddy-boxes) springing up around our towns and villages. ‘Garden cities’ like Letchworth or Stevenage are boring to live in and waste land..and as for ‘new towns’…we really do not want more Basildons and Peterlees, thank you.

    Now think of Hampstead (London) or Clifton (Bristol) or indeed most of the centre of Bath. These places have terraced buildings of four or five storeys, containing well-proportioned flats. The buildings are grouped together in varied and interesting ways, e.g. crescents, squares, ovals, and there are public spaces laid out as gardens. The use of land is efficient, these urban landscapes are pleasing on the eye and the homes themselves are highly sought after.

    Why cannot we build in a similar way? Why must we keep building homes as a form of speculation rather than as a means of providing a pleasant personal and social environment? Why are so many 5 bedroomed houses being built for today’s small families?

    • Helen of Troy

      Why are so many 5 bedroomed houses being built for today’s small families?
      Because H=ll is Other People. Or didn’t you notice?
      Your whole post is written as if the past two centuries and the entire continent of America did not exist. Some people want space! They don’t want to be jammed in with strangers who can hear them on the other side of the wall, with yet more strangers over their heads and under their floorboards. Nossir! They believe (and I do) that ownership is not really ownership if you cannot demolish: you MUST own all your walls, at a minimum. ‘My private Idaho’ — now there’s a thought!

      • KilowattTyler

        The continent of America exists, but the UK isn’t in it. We are in Europe (at least in the geographical sense) and have a similar population density. By pretending that we have vast undeveloped prairies ripe for development, we are squandering a precious (in the economic as well as aesthetic sense) resource, i.e. land.
        The historic centres of cities in northern Europe more closely resemble Bath or Hampstead than Milton Keynes or Surbiton, in that they have terraced buildings of 4 or 5 storeys containing flats (think of Amsterdam, for instance).

        I’m not sure that the owners of elegant 18th Century flats in the centre of Bath would be too upset by ‘…strangers over their heads or under their floorboards…’ unless of course they suffered from paranoia or neurosis. The transmission of sound between flats depends (i) on the skill of the architect who designed the building; (ii) on the competence of the builder who erected it; (iii) the behaviour of neighbours.
        Point (iii) is of course the joker in the pack but bad neighbours can destroy one’s peace whether one lives in a flat, a semi, a detached house or indeed a farm! There are plenty of people in spacious and beautiful detached houses, in upmarket areas, who have been embroiled in long-running disputes over Leylandii or the position of fences.

        • Helen of Troy

          I don’t find anything to disagree with in that. I do think that having neighbours close in (apartment dwelling, which is what Americans would call it) generally creates more immediate and pressing problems than neighbours living either side of detached houses (I have ample experience with both, on two continents). I also feel that, although the architects of the past might have been trusted to deal adequately with noise suppression, the recent crop don’t care and don’t budget for it: to the extent that they have to invest, they want to invest in that which shows. And you can’t display sound protections.

  • perdix

    The usual hysterical headline about “concreting over the countryside”.

    • cartimandua

      Its not hysteria. They are banging down a useless road near me in order to build 10,000 homes in an area already famous for unemployment.

  • John Andrews

    Immigration is the cause of the problem. Without it, the UK’s population would be falling (like Japan’s). The population is also dropping in the east of Germany – so they are knocking down houses every year to make more open space.

  • Northerner1001

    Which one of his mansions did the smug Simon Jenkins write this nonsense from?

  • BottomLineDude

    “The walls of Warwick Castle are to look out over 900 houses”
    This is when I stopped reading and went straight to the arguments!

  • Ken

    I imagine that builders would not wish to build houses in the countryside if there was no demand – why spend all that money if nobody is going to buy?

    My suspicion is that there are a lot of young families in the cities that would like to move out to the countryside, but can’t afford to. This would then free up additional housing in cities, where demand is far stronger.

    Why not start with some areas of countryside close to major cities as a trial and see what happens?

    • cartimandua

      Round me they are going to decant the unemployed from London. There is no employment here no schools docs etc.

    • Helen of Troy

      I’m staggered by the things that builders are willing to build, and expect us to buy: ugly homes poorly designed, poorly fitted with cheap materials, and evidence of poor workmanship all round. And these places tend to stay up and get even uglier — or if not, they still remain pigs, despite the lipstick put on them — rather than be demolished. Why is it that some of the people with the worst taste decide that they can build houses? And: who lets them? I feel that the actual homebuyer is the last one to have any say.

  • RS

    Predict and provide….
    The alternative is a free market, by which every National Park would be developed in the space of 2 years. The planning system already regulates the release of development land and as neither migration nor the birth rate are controlled, what else can they do? Presumably ‘3 homes’ thinks flexibility on occupancy rates means we should go back to Wigan Pier, when families live 4 or more to a room. Urban population density in London is so low because so much of Inner London is parkland and Greater London is Greenbelt. More of Surrey is golf courses than housing thanks to the ‘Greenbelt’ and they are certainly not owned by you and I.

  • cartimandua

    The countryside still is how we eat and drink. Jenkins overlooks the need for land to absorb and provide water. We already import more food than is safe.
    What we actually need apart from flats over shops is a population policy.
    Short term work permits and stopping paying for more than 2 kids (one per adult) should do it.

  • pobinr

    Thanks to the LibLabCon traitor party
    Every year, if you believe the figures it could be far more, another 300,000 mostly poor unskilled immigrants entitled to free NHS treatment
    Every month that’s the equivalent a football stadium full of people come here
    Another 100,000 familes with kids to provide schooling for
    Another 100,000 cars on our congested roads
    Another 300,000 to generate electricity for
    Another 300,000 to provide homes for
    Just to make low wage employers here richer
    Meantime the poor low population density countries they come from
    get even more empty & poorer by losing their work force
    Vote UKIP

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ayA0neqzRs

    • Garry Walton

      We have imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine
      When they invade the Greenbelt via The Cayman Islands they are welcomed with open arms by the Conservative Government and their local County Councillors.
      What happened to Democracy? Who are these people?
      Why can they remain anonymous and not go through Money Laundering checks like the rest of us.

  • Mr Creosote

    Number of housing completions = 118,000

    Net migration = 290,000 (the ones we know about).

    This shortfall has been going on for 15 years and we all know the result.

    Time for change VOTE UKIP

  • Iain Paton

    Cameron’s plan of 200,000 houses at 20% subsidy is lunacy.

    The housebuilding sector hasn’t the capacity to deliver this. At peak time, housing completions (England) did not exceed 50,000 units per quarter, less than 200,000 per year. Completions are still below 30,000 units per quarter, about 100,000 units per year.

    Scrapping the community infrastructure levy and section 106 contributions is lunacy. These are not just used for roads but for other infrastructure requirements, like schools. So families will have a new house but no school.
    Worst of all, this will distort the market. Housebuilders won’t develop the existing land supply, built around development plans with infrastructure plans. They will develop piecemeal and bank whatever land parcels they do not develop.

    This ignores the reality that house prices are not a national problem. They are a localised problem in areas of high demand, with reputable schools and good commuting linkages, where the demand from housebuilders is highest, adding pressure to local infrastructure. This is why affordable housing is required, to address local market failure and not a national problem.

    And the point made by Simon Jenkins with regard to predict-and-provide is correct. Most forecast housing growth is predicted from “new household formation” driven by decline in average household size, ie. smaller households need more houses. However, the decline in average household size has consistently been over-estimated in forecasts, as a review of the trend will indicate.

    Top-down housing targets simply do not work.

  • Daniel Kaffee

    Liberal teachers and professors are a pox upon mankind. Learn to defeat them: http://bit.ly/TopicalNewsNow

  • Roger Hudson

    They are building the wrong sort of homes, in the wrong places.
    Luxury towers with ‘apartments’ at prices only far eastern speculators can afford ( though you can still hear the neighbour’s TV and the noise of traffic).
    Boxy semis in what was once arable farmland with a garage you can only park a Smartcar in and bedrooms where you can just fit a bed.
    Only the property companies are happy.

  • Garry Walton

    Well said Simon
    We have imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine
    When they
    invade the Greenbelt via The Cayman Islands they are welcomed with open
    arms by the Conservative Government and their local County Councillors.
    What happened to Democracy? Who are these people?
    Why can they remain anonymous and not go through Money Laundering checks like the rest of us.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/chris-blackhurst-the-government-must-intervene-to-unmask-foreign-buyers-inflating-a-new-property-bubble-with-questionable-cash-9665171.html

  • Geoist_II

    I recall reading ‘the Revenge Of Gaia by James Lovelock; One of the ideas that I wholeheartedly agreed with was splitting land use into equal thirds for
    1 – 1/3 Habitat – completely wild with minimal input from Humans
    2 – 1/3 Farmland – agricultural use
    3 – 1/3 human use – work and living space

Close