UK housing crisis needs 4m homes
mobbsey at gn.apc.org
Mon Mar 11 13:30:50 GMT 2002
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UK housing crisis needs 4m homes
Kamal Ahmed, Political Editor
The Observer, Sunday March 10, 2002
More than four million homes will have to be built in Britain over the next
20 years - equivalent to a town the size of Reading every year - if Britain
is to tackle rampant house price inflation.
A major inquiry to be published this month will attack the Government for
failing to tackle a crisis which means many key workers, such as nurses and
teachers, cannot afford new homes.
The report, by the respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation, will come as another
blow for Stephen Byers, the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for housing.
It will say that housebuilding is at its lowest level since 1924 and the
Government has been too slow to put in place affordable housing policies.
Last week it was revealed that house prices in Britain are rising faster than
at any time since the 1980s' boom. First-time buyers are being forced to
borrow so much money that many economists fear another 'housing meltdown'
with millions of people being left with crippling negative equity and homes
they can no longer sell.
New figures reveal that the annual increase in house prices was 16.9 per cent
last month, raising the average price by nearly £15,000 to £101,980, well out
of the reach of many workers, particularly in the public sector. A deposit of
nearly £15,000 is now required to get on the first rung of the housing
The International Monetary Fund has also said the amount of debt being
carried by people in the form of mortgages and personal loans was in danger
of becoming unsustainable. Low interest rates meant that people were
borrowing beyond their means.
Lord Best, the Foundation's director, said Britain had to tackle its
obsession with protecting 'greenfield' sites which were often little more
than 'drab land on the edge of cities'. Although brownfield sites in cities
could be used to build some of the houses needed, country locations would
also be required.
'The development of suburban England has been tremendously wasteful of land,'
he said. 'People seem to think it is their right to have a 60-foot garden
despite the huge effect this has on the lack of space for affordable housing.
The report highlights the growth of 'Poundbury syndrome', named after the
town backed by the Prince of Wales built on the outskirts of Dorchester in
In an effort to get back to what critics say is an idealised version of rural
living, houses in Poundbury were built with large spaces in between and big
gardens. In many rural areas, residents balk at the notion of any more houses
being built near them.
The growth of single-person households, the increase in the number of
divorced couples and separated families and increasing affluence have all
been blamed for the chronic lack of housing in Britain, particularly in areas
of rapid economic growth such as London and the South East.
Housebuilding companies have also been attacked for concentrating their
efforts on constructing low-density executive homes, which can be sold for
greater profit than higher-density flats and maisonettes.
"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for
this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and
truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation,
and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity
with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')
Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations,
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at gn.apc.org
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