In overcoming defeatism about the potential for increasing the housing supply, we have various hurdles to overcome. One is that for housing to be affordable, the state needs to spend money. But if the supply is sharply increased, then the market will reduce the cost of buying and renting, then housing will be generally more affordable. There will be more to choose from in a variety of locations and sizes. Then the bureaucratic definitions of “affordable housing” for segmented rations of new “housing units” could cease to apply. Another hurdle is that the Nimbys will resist. But not if the housing is beautiful – the evidence from the Prince of Wales, Create Streets, and others is overwhelming on that point. Next is the concern that we are a small island and there is no more room. But research from Sheffield University estimates than only six per cent of our land is urban. Other have put it at seven or eight per cent, but the general point still stands.
“Ah,” hit back the defeatists. “That’s all very well. But it needs to be in places where people want to live. With ‘connectivity.'” Even then, all is not lost. It turns out that 79 per cent of land in urban areas is not built on. So urban land is a small minority of the total land – and only a small minority of urban land is actually built on. 80 percent of six per cent is just over one per cent. Of course, a lot of that urban land that isn’t built on consists of gardens, parks, roads, golf courses – it is still being put to good use. However, not all of the land is. The Green Belt restrictions preventing even attractive development on unattractive surplus land are perverse and inflexible. But state land banking is also a huge factor.
Even in London, that most sought after and expensive of places to live, there is space available. The Greater London Authority records ownership of 1,576 acres. Astonishingly, a spokesman tells me they have no plans to sell any of it. But also, this tally does not include most of the land owned by Transport for London. The TfL total is 5,700 acres, which is equivalent to the size of Camden. That includes the roads and the track. “So what?” some might respond. If it’s being used for that, then it’s not available to build homes on. But often there will scraps of surplus land owned by TfL adjoining this infrastructure that could be developed. The trouble with TfL is that they think in terms of big schemes. But developing on a large number of small schemes – half a dozen homes here, a dozen homes there – could be cumulatively significant. Then we have 70 car parks owned by TfL next to train stations – in some, the capacity is being fully used, in others, it is not.
As with other issues, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan passes the buck. He blames central Government and demands more money. Yet he is failing to make effective use of the land he owns.