Interesting to see some of the ideas I have been exploring in this blog over the past year are beginning to receive a wider audience. First an article by John Rentoul in the Independent daring to challenge the idea that building more homes will make housing cheaper.
Then the Sunday Express covers the same story on its front page, but from an immigrant bashing angle. You’ll have to take my word for it because I can’t be bothered to trawl their website for a link. This isn’t essentially an anti-immigrant story, but immigraton does play a part in it because undoubtedly a country with 28 million homes is going to be a more attractive place to move to than one with 25 million, and so 3 million new homes will tend to accelerate the rate of immigration. It’s, if you like, an unintended consequence of a big housebuilding programme.
There is another unintended consequence as well, outlined by Jared Diamond in the New York Times. The carbon footprint of immigrants tends to expand dramatically when they move from a relatively poor country to a relatively rich one, for obvious reasons. Therefore however eco these eco homes may be in their built form, the impact of someone moving into Britain from somewhere less affluent is to increase overall carbon emissions by a wide margin. And that’s without the love miles effect of frequent trips made back to the old country to see the family.
Which brings me onto my final point for the day: the resulting strain on the transport infrastructure caused by new housebuilding. This was brought home to me graphically at the weekend when one of my golf buddies, Steve Gaastra, was describing the hell that is commuting from Cambridge to London by train. The service, for which you pay over £6,000 a year for, is already stretched to breaking point, standing room only at peak times. “It’s no better than a cattle truck: hot, steamy and really unpleasant,” he said. He’s only been doing this commute for a few weeks and already he is looking for a flat to rent in London so he can avoid this twice-daily trauma.
This train service, which is reckoned to be the busiest in Britain, already runs half hourly throughout the day and, because it has to share the East Coast mainline for part of its route, it is already working at full capacity. It is very difficult to see how the carriage congestion could be eased any further, other than charging even more money for a standing place – i.e. rationing by price.
Yet flats around Cambridge station are still being marketed as being “just 45 minutes from Kings Cross.” And of course Cambridge is set to play host to another 25,000 homes over the coming 12 years. All of these new housing estates will be designed with a view to discouraging car use and with the promise of excellent public transport systems being in place as an alternative. But with one of the key links out of the city already full to bursting point, and with little hope of any improvement in sight, the cynical thought crops up that we are just being sold down the river on this one. Just where is everyone going to fit?