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Environment / Climate change

New Hertfordshire MP pledges to defend green belt, to protect children from the scourge of low housing costs

Just a quick post, to send our many London-based readers into the weekend with a spring in their step and a passionate hatred of everything in their hearts.

Yesterday, Oliver Dowden, David Cameron’s former deputy chief of staff and the recently elected Conservative MP for Hertsmere, gave his maiden speech to the House of Commons. His constituency, which lies just outside the London boundary, includes the suburban towns Bushey, Potters Bar and Borehamwood. It also, as the new MP used his speech to boast, contains both the set of Eastenders and a Hare Krishna community where the animals are soothed with music (“the Ritz of the Cow world”).

But Dowden also said something that, if I’m absolutely honest, upsets me a bit.  According to the BBC, he noted that his constituency contains “the last unspoilt rolling hills of England before the Home Counties give way to London”, adding:

“I’m absolutely determined to preserve [our towns and villages] from soulless urban sprawl so that my children and grandchildren may enjoy them as I have done.”

Anyone who knows me well, or indeed at all, may know where I’m going with this.

According to RightMove, the average sales price for property in Hertsmere over the last year was £590,613. The average full-time weekly salary in the borough in April 2014 was £537, giving an average annual salary of just under £28,000. In other words, this is an area in which the average property price is just over 21 times the average income.

That’s a slightly unfair comparison, because many of the locals commute. So if we assume they’re all earning the average inner London salary of around £34,473 instead, it’s a mere 17 times incomes.

The multiple of your income a bank will lend you as a mortgage is 4.5.

Hertsmere, as much as anywhere else in England, needs more homes. Dowden, who visited a construction site on the election trail, probably knows this. The site in question was, admittedly, on brownfield land. But such land, it’s generally estimated, could provide perhaps a third of the homes we need in London and the surrounding counties. If we’re to deal with the housing crisis, we have to look beyond that.

And yet, Dowden says no. He feels so strongly that the green belt is untouchable that it was literally the first policy issue he addressed in a speech to the House of Commons.

Which is just great.

It may seem unfair to pick on Oliver Dowden like this. Many, if not most, MPs in outer London and just outside it would probably agree with him. Many of their constituents certainly do.

But this, recall, is a man with very influential friends. Unlike most of us – unlike most MPs, even – he might genuinely be in a position to influence national housing policy. And this is how he’s chosen to use that power.

Dowden wants his children and grandchildren to enjoy his constituency as he has done. Presumably, he would include everyone else’s children and grandchildren in that, too.

So the question at the front of my mind is: how? None of them will be able to afford to bloody well live there.
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