A couple of posts back I offered some essential ideas on how to go about seeing that the economy is repaired. Naturally that is a large task so I could really only skirt around one particular issue, which I suppose could be summarised as making work pay, if I wished it to be in soundbite form. Today I plan to offer a partial solution to the housing crisis that Britain is currently experiencing. I say partial because, on the one hand, it is a very large housing crisis, on the other hand there are a number of other supplemental solutions which will also be of use in ensuring there is enough housing for people.
There are those who say that the housing crisis could be dramatically reduced by simply making sure that all the unused property is put into use. There are derelict and condemned buildings all over the place, as well as commercial properties that are out of use where the land could be repurposed. I don’t think that the problem could begin to be dealt with by derelict buildings alone, I also think that if we solved a lot of our other problems then we would need those commercial properties. Once there are more homes so that fewer people are losing their wages by paying extortionate rents there could be a far greater ability for ordinary people to invest in making use of those commercial properties to supply goods that will become more affordable in the absence of extortionate rents. Although there are obviously some economic advantages in employing people and buying materials for developing these sites it is an economic disaster to knock down and rebuild every few decades. Not to mention those same people and materials could be far more efficiently by putting up extra buildings in previously unused locations.
Of course that is where the objections start to spring up. It is the threat of new developments on previously unused locations. That is what gets protestors building treehouses and digging tunnels. Our biodiversity has suffered dramatically over the last few hundred years of the industrial revolution, sometimes fast enough for us to sit up and take notice, but usually so slowly that we don’t even realise it is happening. Having grown up in Devon I am used to living in the countryside and walking through woodlands, or wading in rivers. Devon is after all the countryside wilderness of England. However if someone from Devon ever spends any time in Scotland it quickly becomes apparent that there is a homogeneity to the flora of Devon that is an obvious mark of humanity’s impact on the environment.
There are still areas in the south of England where the wilderness reigns. If you leave the main roads and the towns, taking a route down narrow windy lanes, it is not long before you can find wild meadows full of masses of different plants and flowers. Despite the time I spend in the countryside and my efforts to learn about obscure plants like Bugle, Jack in the Hedge, Stinkhorn mushrooms, etc, I was surprised to find a plant that I had simply never seen before growing in a field near my home. When building houses it is obvious that plants will be replaced by buildings but as the lack of houses is damaging our ability to live happy productive lives we are left in little choice. It must therefore be considered which places are most appropriate to avoid as much environmental damage as possible. This includes how much extra pollution might result from increasing a local population and how much use of local infrastructure with its knock-on effects of diminishing the comfort of locals, increasing danger for other road users, raising costs of road repair, etc.
In addition to preventing these negative side effects of increased housing it is also reasonably important to upset as few people as possible. I say reasonably because if one paid attention to the way in which modern politicians dealt with these issues one would think that nothing can be done if there is any danger that it might upset anyone whatsoever. You might also look at what they achieve and think that nothing is done. Politicians get into office and then when they leave office years later they realise they have squandered their opportunity and done almost none of the things they originally intended. It is obvious that someone is going to get upset about almost everything, if only because there are some people who make a sport out of getting upset about things. Some journalists make a career out of it, even though they don’t really care at all, usually because they are twisting the facts so much that the upsetting news bears little relation to reality. Fortunately if you make a decisions based on logically avoiding as much damage as possible and increasing the greatest benefit possible then this becomes less of a problem. Unfortunately decisions are often made according to the whims of corporate sponsors and other less than transparent inputs.
In order that extra housing complies with as many of the conditions I have mentioned above the most sensible place to put it is where it is closest to the main thoroughfares that provide routes to work for the people living in the housing. If you put a housing estate on the quiet side of a town then that might be very pleasant for those living there, it might even command a higher price (pleasant for those selling the houses, or renting them out) but it will lead to massive amounts of traffic heading towards the best roads for commuting. If the commuting roads of the residents are on the quiet side of town then very quickly the quiet side of town stops being so quiet; the quiet local roads become over congested and dangerous. If the commuting roads are, as is more likely, on the busier side of town where the local dual carriageway/motorway is then anyone who needs to commute to the nearest large towns will first have to contribute to the morning clogging up of traffic in their own town’s rush hour before they hit the larger roads to make their commute. Naturally the same applies for returning home in the evening, with the result that the town becomes busy, noisy, dusty, and polluted. In this modern era it is probable that a large number of people will be seeking to travel on these larger roads.
If housing is put on the side of the town where the dual carriageway/motorway lies then this extra weight on the infrastructure of the town is avoided, possible with reduced need for the building of an additional bypass in the future. Additionally placing housing estates near the roundabouts where access to these large routes can be made, will result in massive reduction in use of fossil fuels by commuters as they no longer need to sit in traffic jams to negotiate the narrow roads leading to the dual carriageways. There will be economic benefit as more workers will be inclined to accept jobs at businesses that are now easier to reach because the commute will be shorter. Those businesses will therefore find it much easier to find more suitable staff; they will not need to make do with the local pool of talent and the few who make the effort to go through an arduous commute, they will have the addition of the many who will be prepared to go through a far less arduous commute.
Environmentally we already see a benefit from reducing those fossil fuels but there is of course the problem of direct damage by building on the countryside. The one thing that all access roads for dual carriageways and motorways have in common is that any such environmental damage has already been conducted during the twentieth century. Protestors have already tried to stop these roads being built and having failed the countryside has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The trees have been cut down, bulldozers have churned up the rare flowers, badgers and deer have largely fled into more secluded country areas, litter is thrown daily from the windows of cars, and there is a lot of noise from passing vehicles. People do not go to these places to enjoy the countryside anymore. One might argue that they would also be less pleasant places to live but there are many people who already live alongside such roads and there are solutions such as fences and double glazing.
In addition it also reduces the potential cost of the homes, making them far more suitable for first time buyers, and far less suitable for farming. Besides if we all got to live in the nicest places then there wouldn’t be any more nice places. This way all those hidden country meadows remain intact.
To anyone that has read the previously mentioned blog on fixing the economy there will be obvious connections between the matter written here and the matter in that. As I have said, that blog was not fully concluded because it is such a large subject. This approach to solving the housing problems we face is another piece in the puzzle of how to make things better. This approach is probably not suitable for all areas either. It is likely that many local councils have already taken the opportunity to see that housing is built with easy access to the country’s main roads systems. There are also many councils who are still having a great deal of difficulty in deciding where they should put homes to fill the quota being demanded from politicians above them. There are areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are few options. In some of those areas this is an options that may not have been considered, or may be being debated at present. The solution written above is offered for those areas.