On July 24th, I posted a piece called The Housing Green Paper: an idiot’s guide. It was, I am happy to admit, a very lazy piece of journalism, which basically consisted of me resorting to downloading the said Green Paper, opening it up as a pdf, and then carrying out a series of word searches in order to gauge the content. Hell, there is no point summarising my findings – you can read the original in full technicolour here. Yes, I know I should have read all 130 pages and reported back with my critique, but I cheated. In my defence, I have been open about it and it is at least an original approach that isn’t entirely without merit. But I didn’t expect it to catch on
So imagine my surprise this morning when I get my emailed copy of Sp!ked and find an essay by James Woodhuysen, ostensibly a response to the very same Green Paper, using my pdf word-weighing technique. Here is James’s version:
• Potential: 58 times
• Incentives: 24
• Identify: “scores of times”
• Carbon emissions: 69
• Square metres: 0
• Overcrowding: “a few”
• Hectares: 0
• Housing quality: 81
• Design: “more than a hundred”
• Empty properties: 24
My first thought was: “the cheeky bugger, I wonder where he got that idea from.” I don’t know whether to be peeved or flattered. Maybe a bit of both.
What would have been nice is to have received an acknowledgement. Not for the idea of counting word entries in a Green Paper (maybe it will catch on after all – it saves hours of boring reading), but for the points I have been making over the past few months, namely that there are a lot of very tricky issues surrounding the housing debate. And James, in common with the bulk of the media, isn’t really interested in any of them.
• Whilst it’s true that there is plenty of land in Britain, and much of it has been set aside, it doesn’t follow that this will continue to be the case indefinitely. The debate about using land for biofuels is focussing attention on just how little land there is if we want to grow our own fuel.
• The housing demand figures, which are used to justify an increase in the rate of housebuilding, are flakey. Whilst house prices are rising, rents are not. If there was a genuine housing shortage, you would expect to see rents rising as fast as house prices. It follows that the demand for housing is being confused with the demand for home ownership. And home ownership is itself being used as a form of saving. What we have is a pensions and savings crisis manifesting itself as a housing crisis.
• Immigration? The elephant in the room no one will talk about. The future of immigration is intimately linked to future housing supply. Not just who builds these new homes, but who lives in them. But politicians and journalists would rather not even address these issues for fear of being labelled racist.
• Housebuilding booms don’t necessarily make houses cheap. Just have a look at what has happened in Ireland of the past ten years. If we cannot build our way out of this problem, are there any other solutions available? Maybe.
• New housing, however eco-friendly, is basically no greener than new roads or new runways. The only green approach to housing is to repair or replace the existing stock.
Meanwhile, if you come across anyone else using my patented pdf word search to pad out an article facility, let me know and I’ll have another whinge.