© 2017 The Harpenden Society

Unbuilt Houses

Summer 2015 Newsletter

Richard Rogers, (below) Baron Rogers of Riverside, the influential architect, declared in May that there was no need to build on green belt. In London alone, he calculates, there are sites for 216,000 dwellings already with planning permission and in total capacity for 450,000 new builds, sufficient, he says, for ten years building activity in the metropolitan area. Others have offered prognoses of land-banks up and down the country all primed for development.

Yet building is at a low ebb. In the twenty years to 1980 4.3m new houses and flats were built; in the twenty years before 2000 the figures fell to 2.3m and the decline has continued. Why is there this chasm between the opportunities and the deliveries? The primitive state of the British building industry must take some of the blame. Notoriously inefficient – one estimate suggests it is four time less productive than its Danish equivalent – and with no national strategy to guide its random deliberations, there are also often signs that some cherry picking occurs in a desire to gain rich profits. The lack of 'affordable' housing points to this, as does the minute scale of housing association activity in the UK. 0.6% of the housing stock is of this helpful kind compared with 8% in Austria, 15% in Norway and 18% in Sweden.

Land is an allied problem. The murky annals of land registration are difficult to decode although apparently 432 people own a half of the private rural land. Whatever else, land value has rocketed. In the 1930s 2% of the cost of a new house was on average for the land upon which it was built; now that element is 70% of the cost, 35 times as much.

No wonder the proportion of housing costs, whether mortgage repayments or rentals, as a proportion of income has risen steeply. The Resolution Foundation reports that 1.6m households, nearly a tenth of the UK total, expend more than half their income on housing while there were 50,000 repossession of homes in 2014 for inability to sustain repayments. The average price of a house in Central London is 25 times the average national salary.

It is going to need some urgent governmental action to ensure that some rational sense is brought to repair this unwholesome combine of sloth and avarice and that houses are quickly and efficiently built at less cost and in the right places with everyone decently housed and at a reasonable price.

Schools for Thought

It was a very thoughtful, a very earnestly intense, audience of high numbers and concentration that attended the last public meeting of the season at Park Hall on 26 February. The panel was comprised of (left to right on photo below) Philip Waters, Secretary of the Harpenden Secondary Schools Trust, whose task it is to oversee the application for and progress towards a new secondary school for the town. County Councillor David Williams and Ben Bardsley,  Chairman of the Harpenden Parents Group.  A gathering among which many more younger faces than usual listened appreciatively to the discussion which featured the pressure on primary schools as well as the steps taken in regard of the planned secondary school. The questions were acute and perceptive but, on a subject that often generates more steam than illumination, the mood was constructive. It was one of the pleasantest recent comings together of an excellent panel and an excellent audience.

Richard Thomas

It is with with very genuine regret that we announce the death on Saturday 16 May  2015 of Richard Thomas.

He was vice-chairman of The Harpenden Society – but    much else besides as a man who worked ceaselessly in many roles for the benefit of the town, its inhabitants and its surrounds. This sad news came just as the newsletter  was going to press. A full and appropriate appreciation of Richard will appear in the  autumn issue.