Do We Really Need to Build More Houses?

Also Published in Huffington Post UK

There aren’t many things that all politicians agree on, but on housing there is a clear consensus: we need to build more of it. They compete to out do one another; Boris Johnson’s London Plan has a target of 42,000 new houses per annum in the capital while Ed Miliband has pledged to build 200,000 nationally each year by 2020. Most of these are likely to be in the areas of most demand – London and its surrounding commuter belt. Writing this week in the Evening Standard Miliband laid out a series of measures he would use to increase house building in the capital, including forcing local authorities to build more, and compulsory purchase of unused land.

Everyone is trying to respond to the boom in house prices that makes London and much of the south-east increasingly unaffordable. The orthodox solution is the one offered by the politicians – increase supply. Prices are rising due to high demand; the only way to bring down prices is to build more. Suppose this is correct. Hundreds of thousands of people wish to live in London because of her booming economy and abundant job opportunities, so we build housing to accommodate them. How far do we go? Do we fill up every available site with the highest density accommodation possible, forcing us all into increasingly tiny dwellings? As it stands there is probably enough demand to replace every park, library and school playground in London with tower blocks. Do we really want to turn London into Hong Kong? Even if we manage to protect our existing parks and public spaces, surely as London’s population increases we will need to create more of them – we’ll need more libraries, schools and community centres and they can’t all be on the tenth floor of a new development. Continue reading