There is no need to colonise rural Britain for new buildingsby Simon Jenkins / May 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
“The politics of land use, long policed by the planning system, has degenerated into warfare, and at its core lies housing”
Where should the houses go? In a country as small as Britain there is too little space to grow food, to walk, admire the view, build factories, offices, towns and cities. There is too little space for houses, especially houses.
The population of the United Kingdom today is 63m, up from 42m a century ago and 4m more than in 2001. The main driver of this growth, immigration, means that the total is expected to reach 77m by 2050. While the population increase is far lower than in the 19th century and tends to ease during recession, the long-term rise seems certain to continue.
These people must occupy land. The UK as a whole is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe—taken by itself, England’s population density is the second highest in the EU, at nearly 1,000 people per acre. Yet it is housed as well as anywhere in Europe while retaining, virtually untrammelled, up to 93 per cent of its surface area as “rural,” according to extensive research conducted as part of the “UK National Ecosystem Assessment” in 2011. This phenomenon has been achieved through town and country planning acts in place since the Second World War, delineating a boundary between urban and rural development.
This boundary is now all but collapsing. Following reforms to planning regulations last year, there are currently calls to build up to 80,000 new houses on green belt land. This is despite de-industrialisation leaving more derelict land, probably, than ever before in British history. The nature of the housing market, heavily skewed towards the southeast of England, is directing builders towards the countryside, where it conflicts with rural communities and conservationists. The politics of land use, long policed by the planning system, has degenerated into warfare, and at its core lies housing.