Friday, 1 June 2018

If you want to save old-fashioned community in your Home Counties town, you'll have to build more houses.

Offcumdens we call them up here in Yorkshire. Grockles is the preferred term down in the West Country. And I'm absolutely sure there's a suitably perjorative term in Welsh. Stewart Dakers, in his anonymous Home Counties town, says this:
And there are hundreds more Glorias, Regs, Janes and Charlies, the lifeblood of community, all priced out by the ballooning property market inflated by metropolitan demand. Their replacements from central London haven’t the time or the inclination to commit to civic duties,- and besides, their friends live in Notting Hill.
It's a familiar litany, one captured in Steve Knightley's song 'Country Life':
And the red brick cottage where I was born
Is the empty shell of a holiday home
Most of the year there's no-one there
The village is dead and they don't care
Now we live on the edge of town
Haven't been back since the pub closed down
One man's family pays the price
For another man's vision of country life
I've a load of sympathy for people looking on as rural England declines - either emptying entirely as folk leave, the pubs shuts, the shops goes and the school is closed or else backfilling with wealthy retirees and city second-homers. For Stewart Dakers' home counties place, the future should be better than places too far from the big city to make a commute practical. The first clue to this failure comes in the article:

This is not gentrification, but rather social cleansing on a grand scale, and it won’t end well. As that pub-goer foretold all those years ago, able, qualified and dedicated job-holders are being displaced. Ten years ago it was bin men and classroom assistants pushed to the periphery of Home Counties life; now it’s teachers, nurses, physiotherapists. Anyone on an average wage is increasingly unable to afford to live within a reasonable commuting distance of their workplace, meaning our suburban utopias will soon become dystopias of understaffed services.
I know it's all a bit polemical but it hints at the problem - people, including very rich people, want to live in Stewart's Home Counties Idyll. And we've decided that we're not going to make that easy by stopping anyone building new homes there. The 'social cleansing' is pretty much the direct consequence of high demand for the few available homes. Add to this that the local council can't build new houses for rent because national government won't let them borrow and that that same lack of land stops housing associations or even groups of local worthies from building homes for those vital key workers like bin men, teachers and so forth.

Home Counties folk can cry as much as they want about how immigrants from some other place are destroying their nice community (how familiar the language used sounds to us folk in places like Bradford) when they have the capacity to get off their backsides, walk down to the council and tell them to draw up a local plan that makes the necessary land for that much needed housing available. It's a bit different deeper into rural England where the problem is no families, no amenities and dead places in beautiful landscapes, but in Surrey, Sussex and Hertfordshire those local people have every incentive - and the means - to get the homes built.


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