Ed West Ed West

One solution to the housing shortage – build on Hampstead Heath

If I was going to measure possible reasons to desert the Tories at the next election, and I can think of a couple, plans to concrete over the countryside would score pretty highly. As a theoretical idea about something happening miles away from my home it almost makes me want to write letters to the Telegraph; if it were in my backyard I’d be shaking my fist at passing traffic or whatever people in the countryside do when they’re angry.

This is moderately dangerous to the party, because what’s different now to, say, five years ago is that disaffected shire Tories have a plausible alternative to turn to, one that isn’t just opportunistically opposing plans (and therefore likely to change) but which is campaigning against the primary cause of de-greening. After all, some 60 per cent of our future house building needs is due to immigration and if you factor in recent immigration that rises to about 90 per cent. Voting Ukip is therefore a clear and effective message.

Even taking aside the I-word though, we don’t have to touch the green belt or loosen planning to build more homes. It just depends on whether you want a libertarian or authoritarian planning system.

The downside with libertarian planning systems, like one our libertarian government would like, is that they tend to produce quite ugly cities. Compare America’s jumbled inner cities and often soulless suburbs and exurbs with continental Europe’s beautiful and compact urban areas; compact cities not only have environmental benefits but civic benefits, too, that sense of boundedness being thought by sociologists to add to social capital; for the English it provides that ‘village feel’ the English love (but without the poverty and incest of actual village life), and which ribbon developments tend to mar.

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