BUILD UP OR BUILD OUT

Original article written by Leon Fear for Business Leader as featured on their website on 7th June 2018. To view the original, please click here.

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Not a day goes by in the UK where house prices aren’t mentioned and perhaps for very good reason.

One of the key issues is the lack of tall buildings being allowed to be developed in some cities, but also a reluctance to allow some development on the boundaries of major conurbations. Unfortunately this stifles development in some areas where there’s housing demand but not sufficient brownfield land to cater for it, resulting in the higher prices people understandably complain about.

It’s worth understanding the makeup of land use in the UK to help put it in perspective because there is a common assumption that much of the country is ‘concreted over’ and that soon there will be no fields left.

Perhaps the best way to see how far this is from the truth is to look out of the window next time you’re on a flight out of Bristol International Airport! Take a look and see the green and pleasant land beneath you.

Quite rightly, wherever possible we want it to remain green and pleasant, but everyone needs somewhere to live and at a price they can afford and unless we build taller in our cities, and out in to the countryside in certain strategic locations with supporting infrastructure, the result will be continuing higher prices for everyone.

There really shouldn’t be a supply issue when it comes to housing but there definitely is, with around 300,000 new homes needed every year for the next ten years in order to keep on top of demand and see some semblance of affordability return. That’s over double the amount currently being built annually.

In total around 7% of the UK is built on leaving over 90% as open land, of which about 25% is arable farmland and 10% woodland (in my view we should be planting more woodlands including in urban areas).

When you consider that only 7% of the country is built on, including all infrastructure, housing, hospitals and schools – absolutely everything, it does perhaps make sense to allow further release of land in certain locations to ease the cost, congestion and pollution caused as a result of sometimes restrictive thinking. Retaining sufficient good quality farmland in order to feed a growing population is extremely important but when you look at overall land use this should be entirely possible whilst releasing more land for housing.

As humans we tend to like to live and work close to each other, otherwise cities and towns would not exist, but expanding beyond our current thinking in terms of new homes is vital if we are to ever address the cost of housing in the UK.

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