diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seven ways to solve London's housing crisis

1) Sporting foundations
Why does London have so many golf courses, and what useful function do they serve? Every day a small number of relatively well-off souls walk around acres of green space occasionally tapping a ball with a stick. In a capital city of limited extent, this is a luxury we cannot afford. Let's take back our golf courses, perhaps not all in one go, but nine holes out of every eighteen. This would leave perfectly sufficient space to play... and if we ever chose to go the whole hog, players could easily drive to an unsullied course in the Home Counties instead. And what of football pitches? These are left utterly empty during most of the week, when they could be covered by cul-de-sacs, shops and schools. We need tarmac over only half of them - the ratio of home matches to away matches confirms this. But let's not falter in reclaiming these sporting wastelands, for the greater good.

2) Rebuild Pinner
It doesn't have to be Pinner, it could be Carshalton or Sidcup or Woodford, or anywhere else that's essentially suburban. In such a place we find innumerable avenues lined by semi-detached houses, the very essence of desirable Metroland living. But what a waste! All those gardens, front and back, where nobody lives but a host of wildlife and the occasional gnome. And all those properties, each occupied by a single household when its residential footprint could support so much more. We should bulldoze the entire suburb and start anew, reallocating the land to a series of multi-storey blocks and stacked apartments, increasing the population density to its full potential. And sure, we'd give those displaced by demolition first choice in the new development, nobody need ultimately miss out. But imagine the boost to housing stock that the wholesale rebuilding of Pinner could achieve.

3) Limit skyscraper growth
Let's be frank, any new residential building over 20 storeys high is essentially lifestyle posturing. Flats in such developments sell for exorbitant amounts as portfolio investments, not as somewhere to live, as luxury marketing campaigns make clear. Why should we pander to foreign speculators by building inexorably upwards, as what should be essential capacity in the sky ultimately goes to waste? Let's slap a ban on any property above a certain height, whilst simultaneously insisting that every new development reaches at least the eighth floor. By adopting the building policy of our European neighbours and creating a medium-height default for all residential structures, our capital could be transformed into an apartment-friendly meritocracy in which all are equal.

4) Extend London
At present Greater London covers 33 boroughs across six hundred square miles. But why stop there? The economic influence of our capital extends far beyond its 1965 boundary, so let's embrace peripheral districts and swallow them whole. Watford belongs in London, and Dartford, and Epsom too. Hell let's take Slough and Brentwood, and the Gatwick conurbation, even Hatfield and Harlow, and make Greater London greater still. At a stroke we could double its size and vastly increase its housing stock, and all this without a single extra penny being spent. Better still, those priced out of Outer London could then easily find an affordable home in New London, leaving room for those in Inner London to escape the property bubble at its heart. It makes sense to embrace the extended future our capital deserves, for the benefit of all.

5) Student accommodation
When you were at university you probably lived in a single room with shared facilities down the hall. These weren't the best living conditions of your life, but you coped, indeed you probably enjoyed communal living immensely. So let's make student accommodation the new default. Move our young people into tiny apartments - let's not call them cells - and stack them high. Provide a bed and a sink and a wardrobe, add wi-fi and a big screen on one wall, and most indebted youth will think they're in heaven. There'd be privacy, so the set-up's a big step up from flatshare, but also all the fun of standing around in the kitchen and bonding over pasta. And yes, it'd mean lowering the housing aspirations of a generation, but when they were never going to own their own home anyway, let's at least provide their very own box to rent.

6) Compulsory flatshare
Single people are one of the biggest drains on our housing stock. They swan around in properties that could easily hold two, as married couples repeatedly prove, and are solely responsible for the length of housing waiting lists in London. As the capital's population swells, we can no longer afford the luxury of bathrooms used only by one, and kitchens used solely to generate single servings. It's therefore essential that every Londoner living alone should be compelled to double up, if not with a soulmate then in a marriage of convenience, instantly releasing hundreds of thousands of properties to the market. Not only would the price of property stabilise as supply meets demand, but single people would find their rent or mortgage payments halved, and maybe even a new partner. It's win win win.

7) Blue sky thinking
We could perhaps build more affordable housing - that's properly affordable, not mortgaged beyond the reach of the average non-banker. We should stop listening to greedy developers who claim construction won't be profitable unless they can build what they want, rather than what the community needs. We ought to stop green-lighting developments whose sole purpose is the accumulation of cash for faceless investors, if only our leaders had the resolve. We should consider funding accommodation from the public purse, an admittedly radical departure, rather than insisting taxes must be cut because society's better off that way. We might even come to the conclusion that housing is a basic need and a human right, rather than a nest egg asset to be preserved at all costs. But you're right, this would be mere blue sky thinking, and the other six solutions are far more likely.


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