I remember a long time ago talking to someone who had been the personal assistant (now called a PA which I think sounds rather vulgar) to Rab Butler, the Education Minister responsible for the 1944 Education Act. She was obviously very fond of Rab, but I took her point very seriously when she said that he had been clear that the legislation was enabling rather than dictating.
Anyone who has had a part in bringing up children, which of course includes children, will know that setting limits is enabling a child, because it sets boundaries within which the child is safe to explore.
In the same way, setting limits to communities in whatever they are doing is enabling, it provides guidance within which it is safe to explore. Let’s see how this applies to housing.
For some time Governments of all colours have been keen to call for a minimum number of houses to be built, or have demanded that certain areas be prescribed to be where new housing should be provided and how many. They have more recently sought a more open policy of allowing local councils to develop Local Development Frameworks, for example, here is the one for Brighton and Hove. With stagnant houses prices and soaring rents I was wondering if this is the right kind of approach, maybe it has been far too dictatorial instead of enabling, a natural evolution has been stultified.
But of course we don’t want houses everywhere, we need to preserve the beauty of the countryside. So it occurred to me that one simple policy might solve a lot of the problems we have. That policy would be to state that the current land area in use for housing as of, say, January 2011 is FOREVER the maximum land area which will be allowed for housing.
One small extra is required to prevent land swapping, to avoid derelict states being left abandoned while green fields are being developed. That extra would be to state that any land taken out of the housing land quota would have to be restored to the same status and value as the land being swapped to build new housing on. So a derelict estate would have to be turned into a majestic park with a river if the river and park were being developed for housing.
I think making a cap on land for housing, FOREVER. would have the positive effect of making that land truly valuable, it would be like Gold, a commodity in limited supply and therefore worth preserving. It would also be the start of providing general limits on all things which can lead to an unsustainable environment.
The same absolute limits could be applied to office/business land ‘footprint’
Maybe the same limit could be stated for how many miles of road there are, and how many passenger take off and landings there are?
The rationale for these kinds of damage limitation policies is to allow maximum room for creativity while maintaining permanent limits to the most harmful impacts on our environment.
The trouble with Government trying to control too many steps in the process is that the steps become more important than the end goal.
So, what might the problems be?
Well, one might be hoarding. So there would need to be a use it or lose it policy. And by lose it I don’t mean get paid for it, I mean it goes without compensation.
Another problem might be price escalation, so lots of people have assets of increasing value while others can’t have them, cars or houses. This does seem to be a rising problem now, but I think have a damage limitation policy will lead to more creative solutions, so if the number of cars is limited then car sharing schemes would work better, and house sharing schemes. We have a lot of empty houses now, they would come back into use. And vacant land would be put to use.
So, maybe this would not work, but I think one big thing this land limit policy would do pretty quickly is to give a kick to the economy, suddenly people would start to reinvest in UK housing, which has to be where the economy will have to recover first.
Do you agree? Let me know.