1. Governance
August 24, 2017updated 30 Jul 2021 1:50pm

Why does London have a housing crisis? Because transport elsewhere is terrible

By Stephen Bush

Why do we have a housing crisis? Because too many people want to rent, buy and live in in London. That in turn, encourages people who have property in London to sell it in order to move into larger houses elsewhere, driving up property prices throughout the United Kingdom.

(It’s also, as I’ve written before, making it harder for the Conservatives to win parliamentary majorities by forcing culturally-driven Labour voters out of their preferred homes in inner London into formerly safe or marginal Conservative seats in the rest of the south.)

There are two solutions to that: the first is to increase the supply of housing – to build more bloody houses, as Jonn so often puts it. But the second is to increase demand: the housing crisis in the south of England is the infrastructure crisis everywhere else.

Put simply, too many people who live in and around London don’t really want to: they are forced to because they are forced by the labour market to live within commutable distance of the capital.

The lack of investment in infrastructure outside of the capital not only directly leads to lower rates of job creation outside of the south but makes it harder to access job opportunities that are nearby. A fun but depressing game: pick a small town as far away from any of the United Kingdom’s other great cities – let’s say Cardiff – as, say, Chesham or Amersham, both on the outer perimeter of the London Underground. Now, try to get Cardiff using public transport in order to make a nine to five to job every day. Good luck.

This has a number of negative social consequences, one of the most neglected of which is that most of the United Kingdom is still hugely dependent on car ownership. If you can’t use public transport to get to work reliably, you need a car. That drives up both the cost of living, but also increases our emissions.

It also makes it harder to be poor, which is why I’ve resolved not to learn to drive – not just because I’m lazy and set in my ways, but because, if you really want to get a sense of how good or bad the infrastructure is, and how tricky it is to be poor, disabled or out of work somewhere you’re visting, you should use public transport.

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This mess also highlights the unresolved other half of the housing crisis: which is until you fix the connectivity crisis in the rest of the country, Britain’s housing market will continue to overheat.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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