Alex Massie Alex Massie

Housing: the south’s difficulty is the north’s opportunity – Spectator Blogs

Three cheers for Isabel’s post on the difficulties Nick Boles faces in pushing through his plans to make is slightly easier to build houses in Britain. I would add only this: people who already own their houses have more power and much greater access to important media outlets than people who do not own their own homes.

Today’s wrangling about planning reminds me I meant to write something about Neil O’Brien’s excellent recent Spectator article on the north-south divide. To put the matter in the broadest terms, the south’s difficulty is the north’s opportunity. As O’Brien wrote:

The North can gain advantage where it offers something the South doesn’t. Take Preston. It was a surprising boom town, achieving the third-fastest rate of private sector job creation in England during the first ten years of Labour. Why? Failed plans for ‘Central Lancashire New Town’ left behind loads of land with planning permission agreed — making it the ideal place to locate a new business. When the South is being sniffy about building in its green and pleasant vales, the North should turn southern nimbyism to its advantage. […] There are lots of opportunities if we work with, not against, market forces.

I had no idea Preston had fared so well in the 1997-2007 period. But it shows what can be done by liberalising planning regulations. Zoning is a form of regulatory capture, after all.

It is, of course, complicated but, nevertheless, making it easier to locate businesses in the north by easing planning restrictions is one part of “rebalancing” the British economy and reducing the corrupting influence of London and the south-east. It may be that the centuries-old pattern of people flocking to London in search of work cannot easily be reversed but there must, in theory at any rate, come a point when housing in the south-east becomes so expensive that even confirmed southerners might be tempted to look north for fairer prospects.

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