Opposites 1: Do we need more housing?

Image of house buildingThis is the first of an occasional series about strongly opposite views on big issues in society.

This first Opposites is about whether we need to be building more houses. Let’s start with a view that says we don’t need more houses in London and the South East.

The housing shortage is a myth: Andrew Lilico

In his article, Andrew Lilico compares the number of surplus dwellings over households. Using census data he concludes that for London and the South East it’s a long-standing myth that there’s a housing shortage.

In summary Lilico starts his argument by stating that the 1980′ saw the number of new dwellings just keeping pace with household formation. He continues with his proposition saying that the 1991 census was thought to considerably understate the population, potentially exacerbating a housing shortage, and an estimate in 2000  was considered to show a deteriorating situation.

But, he says, the 2001 census data showed, “Instead of surpluses of dwellings over households falling across England and Wales and going negative in London and the South East, they actually increased everywhere except London where they stayed constant and comfortably positive.”

Drawing on data from the 2011 census, Lilico concludes, “Well, those 2011 data have been released today and they are conclusive: there is no “housing shortage” in London and the South East of the sort identified in the 2000 Mid-Year-Estimates and other data from the late 1990s, and never was.”

It’s a compelling argument. Now for the opposite view.

Beautiful urban landscapes and affordable homes: Nick Boles

Government Planning Minister Nick Boles, in a recent speech and follow-up interview argued the need for improved housing and urban landscape design. Interviewed on BBC Newsnight he suggested increasing the amount of developed land by a third would address the housing shortage.

Nick Boles argued forcefully that,  “People have got to accept that we’ve got to build more on some open land. …. We’re going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have to accept we need to build more on some open land. In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”

Boles also told Newsnight that having a house with a garden was a “basic moral right, like healthcare and education. There’s a right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in”.

The concept of houses with space and space around them raises objections from the anti-housing lobby, because it requires land. Nick Boles objection is that we’ve somehow forgotten how to build beautiful houses, and that we “build ugly rubbish”. It’s difficult to disagree, and his drive for improved design is definitely to be applauded.

The controversial aspect of his proposals lie around potential changes to the planning system to encourage both more and better building. This approach is supported by a recent report from the Institute of Economic Affairs – Abundance of land, shortage of housing, which concluded that the primary limitation to housing growth is planning regulation.

My view: I’m more inclined to the view that we need more housing, and especially better designed housing in improved urban landscapes.

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