Azara Blog: LSE professor talks nonsense about housing in the UK

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Date published: 2006/11/21

Anne Powers, a professor at the LSE, says in the BBC:

Housing has become a major topic because housing costs are extremely high in large parts of the South East and the South West of England and in more popular parts of the rest of Britain.

The economy has been growing steadily for 13 years and the number of jobs has multiplied.

Land constraints and fragmenting households have greatly increased pressures, leading to large-scale outer building in southern "growth areas".

At the same time immigration is far outstripping emigration, creating even greater pressure, particularly in London. We cannot indefinitely build more - we are an island.

And we are overbuilding in much of the rest of the country. There are major disincentives to repair existing homes within older industrial areas of the Midlands and the North of England.

People often prefer to buy a new house in a suburb than to renovate an older existing home.
...
The pressures of growth in the South East, decline and overbuilding elsewhere are socially polarising and environmentally harmful.

We build about the right number of homes but in the wrong places. So what should we do?

We should create incentives to reinvest in existing buildings. At the moment, there is a tax of 17.5% VAT on all repair and renovation.

This is an absurd barrier to maintaining what are often intrinsically well-planned, well-designed homes and streets.

We need to shift planning and design in favour of existing communities. Integrating old with new makes close-grained urban spaces attractive and harmonious.

We have a vast stock of under-used buildings created over centuries of urban and industrial growth that require specialised restoration and design skills.

We cannot afford to throw away existing housing assets. So we should stop demolishing decayed terraced homes in the North and much needed affordable housing in the South.

Architects and planners must adapt to this new low-impact approach, since the environmental impact of new housing is devastating.

Yet the Treasury subsidises infrastructure for new developments at about £35,000 per home, with extremely weak enforcement on environmental standards.

Yet suburbanites are generally better off, and white, while older, inner-city communities are poorer and more racially mixed.
...
Families would stay in cities if neighbourhood environments were better cared for, greener, cleaner, and safer.

For this to happen, we need local management of local conditions and services within attractive, integrated and dynamic neighbourhoods.

We also need traffic-calmed "home zones" that favour people of all ages on foot and bicycle over cars. Streets then become an outdoor living room.

An amazingly poor article, full of second-rate analysis.

"We cannot indefinitely build more - we are an island." A trite truism. Yes, you can probably not fit 100 billion people in the UK. But you could easily fit 100 million or more. The UK is not that densely populated, even in London. There is plenty of space (just fly over East Anglia and take a look), it's just that the ruling elite refuse to allow most of it to be built on.

"People often prefer to buy a new house in a suburb than to renovate an older existing home." Gee whiz, why would that be? The fact that the ruling elite can make statements like this shows how out of touch with reality they are. And what are they saying, that they should be able to force the peasants to live where the ruling elite tells them to live?

"At the moment, there is a tax of 17.5% VAT on all repair and renovation." Well, why not, almost all other consumption is taxed at this rate. But this should also be the tax rate on new builds, that is the problem.

"The pressures of growth in the South East, decline and overbuilding elsewhere are socially polarising and environmentally harmful." Translation: "I am one of the rich people who already live in the South East. All you other peasants who want to live here just go and bugger off."

"We need to shift planning and design in favour of existing communities." Well in Cambridge, at least, that is already the case. No major new build happens without the local chattering classes getting to put their two cents in. And their views are completely selfish, they never consider what the new residents might want. Of course most of their views are ignored (they are just too selfish), but unfortunately some of the worst ones are accepted.

"We cannot afford to throw away existing housing assets." Well, there are plenty of people in the country who believe most existing houses should be replaced by much more energy efficient ones. Of course this question is a complex equation, involving replacement and operational costs summed over a long period. Unfortunately nobody involved with urban planning can be trusted to do the sums fairly and properly, since they all have an axe to grind one way of the other.

"Yet suburbanites are generally better off, and white, while older, inner-city communities are poorer and more racially mixed." Yet another member of the ruling elite complaining about suburbanites. It's a bit much when a rich person complains about other rich people. In the UK we could do with a ruling elite that cares about all the people, not just some politically correct sector (which is always poor, so the elite can patronise them with their alleged concern).

"Families would stay in cities if neighbourhood environments were better cared for, greener, cleaner, and safer." Another trite statement. The reason people move to the suburbs is because those goals are more likely to be achieved there than in the dreadful large cities of Britain. (Well, Cambridge counts as a city, although it is really suburban in most ways.)

"We also need traffic-calmed "home zones" that favour people of all ages on foot and bicycle over cars. Streets then become an outdoor living room." Well, there is no reason that speed limits could not be reduced to 20 mph on many streets. But the rest of that argument is just the typical rant made by non-workers, complaining about workers having to get to work to pay taxes to keep the non-workers alive and kicking. Streets are not living rooms. Streets are not play areas. Streets are not quiet zones. Streets are for people to get about from A to B. It has always been like that, and no doubt will always be like that, in spite of the ruling elite trying to pretend otherwise.

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