How to intensify the housing crisis

Tomorrow the Government will decide how it plans to intensify the housing crisis in the south-east and usher in more strife over house building. In other words, it is going to decide whether it favours expanding Heathrow, Gatwick or both.

The justification for airport expansion in the south-east is largely economic. Both airports have spent astonishing amounts of money lobbying MPs and others.[1] Heathrow, we are told, will add £211 billion to the UK economy by 2050 and create 80,000 new jobs in London and the South East. Gatwick’s backers claim a second runway “will generate 21,000 jobs at the airport, as well as indirect and catalytic employment” in “places such as” Croydon, Hastings and Brighton, i.e. across a pretty wide area.

This is investment that could help rebalance the UK’s economy, already skewed to the southern counties of England. These are jobs that could be created in the places that need them most, where there is more space within existing towns and cities to accommodate the workers. It is a pity that housing was excluded from the Davies Commission’s terms of reference.

As Ralph Smyth, CPRE’s head of infrastructure says in his excellent blog, Flying into turbulence, politicians love to talk about rebalancing the economy “but the moment you mention aviation, they all scramble back to the safety of London” – even though London’s five airports already have 50% more flights than New York or Tokyo, the city’s nearest competitors.

The debate on airport expansion has largely been about economic growth on the one side versus cost, political feasibility, climate change, air quality and noise for those living under flight paths on the other (a formidable list…).

Growth seems to have won the day, but many of those arguing for airport expansion have forgotten that they also care about the housing crisis and want to defend the Green Belt and wider countryside. They need to join the dots.

[1] I should thank them for the hospitality and free gifts at party conferences over the last few years.


12 Responses to “How to intensify the housing crisis”

  1. 1 New Moons For Old October 24, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    As someone dwelling under the Gatwick flight path(s), albeit many miles from the airport itself, living with almost incessant “background noise” described by Ralph Smyth in his piece, I am naturally biased about this. That aside, I have great support for the view expressed here, opposing the south-centricity of our policy- and decision-makers. The south – particularly the south-east – is over-burdened already, and the tide appears inexorable.

    I heard recently that Britain is unusual, in that both the political centre and the financial markets are in London (compare this with Washington DC and New York City, for example). But there are thriving businesses all over the UK. While I have never been convinced by the case for HS2 (especially with some reports stating that it will shave a “whole” 20 minutes (!) off journey times), if the rationale is to support economic development in the north, then why not follow through?

    It strikes me that there are two problems here. First, “we” (by which, of course, I mean “they”) continue to apply 20th Century solutions to 21st Century problems – an issue with the CPRE has addressed in its own Transport Policy Guidance Notes.

    And, second, “we” are demonstrating a deplorable lack of courage in our convictions.

    • 2 sspiers October 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks for the comment, and I agree! It is hard to find any advanced country where one city is as dominant as London. We think of France as a centralised country, but its politics and economy don’t revolve round Paris as ours do around London. Germany, of course, is a federation of strong, competing states (Länder). This decision looks set to make the economically strong parts of the country even stronger, at the expense of parts of the country that badly need investment.

      • 3 New Moons For Old October 25, 2016 at 8:09 am

        Thanks for elucidating some of the European situation, of which I was unsure and therefore stepped around in my example!

        There is a third point, here, of course, in that our politicians’ vision is confined by the election cycle and the life of the government of the day, a basis completely at odds with long-term considerations.

  2. 4 oldbrock2014 October 24, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    The House of Commons building needs Billions spent on it just to get basic repairs done. This would still leave it largely not fit for purpose so why not move to a new building away from London? This would be cheaper on building and running costs and take the pressure off London. The Banks say they are going to move out of the UK anyway due to Brexit and most major financial transactions are done electronically so that argument would not hold. Move parliament to Manchester say and you really would create a northern power house.

  3. 6 Andrew Carey October 24, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    The land area of Singapore and Hong Kong combined is about equal to that of the London boroughs, but their combined population is about 5m higher. When people see the skylines of Singapore and HK they think ‘awesome’, but when you mention that London could be like that, the same people think ‘not hear matey, it would further imbalance our economy’.
    But what is an imbalanced economy?
    SG and HK are two of the freest economies on earth according to most metrics, which would lead you to think that the megacity is the balanced outcome to economic growth.
    The imbalanced outcome is what the UK currently has where the countryside is unnatural and industry-intense and the cities are constrained in height and width.

    • 7 sspiers October 24, 2016 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks, Andrew. I’m sure that much of the countryside would benefit from being more ‘natural’, but much of our countryside is beautiful, productive and rich in nature, a winning combination.

  4. 8 andrew needham October 26, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Manchester have ambitions

    Manchester airport is already the country’s third busiest. Unlike Gatwick it already has two runways, giving it significant capacity for growth.

    “Manchester Airport will connect the Northern Powerhouse to global markets – boosting the region’s economy by around £10bn – far more than any other airport.”

    High speed rail, in the form of HS2 and an east-west link dubbed HS3, is also key for both Manchester airport and the wider region.

    The airport is important “not just for Manchester but for the whole of the North of England,” says Transport Minister Andrew Jones, confirming that the government is developing plans for HS3 alongside HS2, saying: “We are looking at integration of the two.”

  5. 9 antvren October 26, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Who is Heathrow expansion meant to benefit? Not the poor, for whom holidays are unaffordable. Not once-a-year holidaymakers going abroad (or coming from abroad), for whom extra capacity would make very little difference. And certainly not anyone concerned with their environmental impact, for whom a flight would add a massive chunk to their annual carbon emissions. Especially when you factor in the warming effect from the high-level water vapour, per

    • 10 sspiers October 26, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment, I agree!

    • 11 New Moons For Old October 27, 2016 at 8:54 am

      Like sspiers, I also agree. All of the issues you describe here reflect my comment earlier about 20th century solutions to 21st century problems. Are we supposed to simply carry on accommodating ever-increasing air traffic? That’s obviously impossible. Yet there appears to be no will to explore alternatives, despite the fact that, for a proportion of service sector businesses, information technology means that it’s no longer necessary to “go there”.

      Your question about who the expansion is supposed to benefit is key. It is a cruel twist that this decision is being tied up so inextricably with the impetus to emphasise Britain’s business-worthiness, sandwiched between the referendum result and trade negotiations. The BBC news on Tuesday featured the representative of a Cornish tea company, excited about the export potential for British luxury brands, particularly – he said – if there were to be additional connecting flights from Newquay airport. It does seem sad if rural businesses are about to begin operating in isolation from wider rural social and environmental concerns.

      I am sure CPRE will continue the work begun in the Transport Policy Guidance Notes and elsewhere, drawing on expertise from all sectors to identify sustainable solutions supportive of rural businesses, rural society and the environment. I just hope policymakers listen to the results.

  6. 12 geoff lambert October 27, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    a major consideration on the airport fiasco is simply how long the planning system takes to make major decisions (and its still not over) time to rip up the planning regulations book and start again.

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