We’re told that cramped housing is one of the reasons why Covid cut such a swathe through our green and pleasant land:
Overcrowded housing has helped to spread Covid-19 in England and may have increased the number of deaths, according to research by the Health Foundation.
People living in cramped conditions have been more exposed to the coronavirus and were less able to reduce their risk of infection because their homes were so small, the thinktank found. Overcrowding was a key reason why poorer people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds in particular had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it said.
We should therefore be arguing for larger housing. And that’s s fair argument too, given that the UK builds the smallest new housing in Europe.
So, why do we do so? Because the current planning system insists that new housing be small. Current law – or perhaps you only get planning permission if you do this – means that 32 dwellings must be put on one hectare. This is, close enough, 300 sq metres for each house. Including the garden. This means that housing must be small and also crowded.
We can also check whether this is what people actually want to live in. The answer being no of course. Larger houses, even small houses in large gardens, sell for more. Thus there’s a premium – from people paying with their own cash – upon space. Which is the one thing the insistences of the planning system doesn’t allow them. Thus we should change the planning system of course. For there’s no shortage of land – housing occupies some 3% of the UK – it’s the chitties to allow the building which are in short supply.
Again, we can look to prices to prove this. Land with planning permission is worth much more than land without it. The uplift in value is purely the issuance of the chitty. Given that chitty issuance is free we should thus do a great deal more of it.
This runs into the problem of those upper middle classes insisting that the oiks must not have space. This is not a new thing. Back immediately after WWII when everything was to be planned – that meant everyone had to live in flats rather than the suburban des reses the population itself said it wanted. The planners won of course, that’s the purpose of the Green Belt, to stop the oiks having that space which is the particular preserve of the upper middle classes.
One solution suggests itself, which is that all planners – MPs to the blokes in the council drawing offices – must be forced to live in whatever it is that has just been planned. I’m pretty sure this would expand the provision of housing that people actually want to live in.
It is, of course, worse than this. For those planners looked to central and eastern Europe back then. The great urban conurbations of the continent were then, as now, full of happy flat dwellers. Why should the English be different? Even, peeps seem content enough to live in Brezhnevite slums of stack a prole flats in those other places. Why won’t our oiks?
Because our planners are too stupid to realise that that’s only half the system. Sure, when winter overnight temperatures can go down to 20 below there’s a fun in living in a nice tight flat. But that is only half the housing system.
All over the continent – under different names, chalupa, hutte, dacha – there’s also the other half of that system. The summer house, the cottage. Unplanned rings of them around every town and city. Some few hundred sq metres of land – forest, grass, whatever – with a home grown shack upon it. Or, these days, possibly a hand built two story cottage. Granny and the kids decamp to these for the summer, parents coming out at weekends perhaps.
This really is how that housing works – Soviet factories used to carefully acquire land for the workers to have such. Every German city is ringed with them.
These are not just allotments – although given socialist food supply systems they were an essential contributor to the diet – and they differ in one hugely important legal matter. They’re allowed to build overnight accommodation. Sometimes it is just a shack but as time goes on they grow and expand.
The “everyone lives in a flat” idea isn’t, that is, true. Everyone has two places to live instead, the summer cottage and the flat in town.
The English idea is different, yes, that suburban house with the garden, it only being the rich who do the double. But that’s what the planners in England miss. That the stack a prole idea only works when there is that shack out in the woods. And that being the very thing that the planners insist upon denying. Can you imagine the conniption fits if it were suddenly changed so that every Grenfell Tower resident had a tenth of an acre of Surrey to put a shack upon?
But that is the continental system. The very one the planners wish to impose but which they only grasp half of. Which is about right for British planners of course, blindly ignorant even of the systems they wish to impose.