Friday, Oct 16, 2009

Fun Online Poll How much land in England (by surface area) is still undeveloped?

Choose from 30%, 50%, 70% and 90%. And yes, I mean 'England' as opposed to 'Great Britain' or 'the United Kingdom'. 'Developed' means built on (incl gardens) as opposed to farmland, forest, lake, marshland, beach, estuary etc. I've been running the poll for a couple of days on my own 'blog and it is quite staggering how many people get the wrong answer.

Posted by mark wadsworth @ 01:52 PM (2354 views)
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1. doom&gloom said...

A newsblog is for posting news items i'd presumed, rather than for posters to post their own polls advocating their own agendas.

Approx 10% of England is considered 'developed' in the sense you mean - 'urbanised'. Includes carparks, industrial land, etc. Personally I don't understand why further land urbanisation would ever be something to aim for, except for agroaphobics perhaps.

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:09PM Report Comment

2. mark wadsworth said...

You call it 'agenda', I call it a survey to establish the level of people's general knowledge/awareness. Having established the facts, we then can have a debate about what conclusions to draw as to 'policy', if any. I have had arguments about liberalising planning laws with people who genuinely believe that half of England is urbanised/developed, which are futile, as they refuse to accept how small the true figure is. If it really were half, then sure, I might have misgivings about more development as well.

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:15PM Report Comment

3. keith thomas said...

Always make me laugh when I here Britain described as a small crowded island - go up in a light aircraft and you'll see we live in a large sparsely populated land.

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:20PM Report Comment

4. mrmickey said...

What I always find interesting about this country is the minute you move away from the cities and off the main roads is how totally alone you are, most people in this country see the countryside as a scary place and are not happy to move to far away from the comfort of the shopping centre.

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:23PM Report Comment

5. cynicalsoothsayer said...

OK maybe we should stop developing when we reach 50%?

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:32PM Report Comment

6. cyril said...

Why don't you class farm land as 'developed' ? The planning system recognises this use class. Or do you think that farmland is just empty space waiting to have a house built on it?

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:40PM Report Comment

7. the number cruncher said...

The countryside has changed drastically over time - there has been a huge change this last 15 years with farmers selling up or leasing there land to large farming companies. I live surrounded by lovely downland on one side of my house - which is wildlife rich, but that is fast disapearing.

On the other side of my house is a wide expanse of prairie type arable land which is farmed by huge machines (they are like something out of a science fiction film) and is a complete wildlife desert. Not a fly, weed, butterfly or bird has use of the land. So much of our so called green belt is just factory farming and may as well be built on as far as mother nature is concerned.

The back gardens would be much more beneficial to wildlife and that is not just my opinion but that of the Governments own wildlife advisers, English Nature.

In my humble opinion we need to democratise our planning laws so the whole of society determines what our land is for and not just the Nimbys. We also need to make all capitals gains from planning decisions go to of-sett taxation and not into private hands.

Land Value Tax as previously stated is the most effective way to achieve this

Friday, October 16, 2009 02:41PM Report Comment

8. mark wadsworth said...

@ Cyril " you think that farmland is just empty space waiting to have a house built on it?"

I'm a small government free-market liberal. Whowever is paying to own the land (whether in mortgage repayments or notional cost-of-capital or indeed Land Value Tax) is best placed to decide what to do with it. With a moderate relaxation of planning laws (i.e. expaning urban areas by a couple of per cent, reducing agricultural land area by a fraction of a per cent), we'll find that the value of marginal residential sites is broadly equal to its value as agricultural land*, at which stage the markets will put a stop to further development.

* Some property developers in areas in the US with little or no planning restrictions are selling their landbanks back to farmers at a small loss, i.e. they bought it for $10,000 per acre, have realised the market for new homes in that area is satiated and are selling it back again for $5,000. No homebuilder in the UK in his right mind would waive the planning permission in this way, as it would reduce the value, even of marginal sites, from £250,000 per acre (£20,000 per typical plot, even in today's depressed market) down to £5,000 per acre.

Friday, October 16, 2009 03:10PM Report Comment

9. Wofmd said...

This has always amazed me as well!!

I live in London, and you only need to catch a train out of the central London and wait 15-20 minutes before you see big open spaces. So much for the "over crowded island"...

...still, such is life when the populatiuon is too busy watching X-Factor...

Friday, October 16, 2009 04:38PM Report Comment

10. cyril said...

@Mark .... I'm afraid I don't share your faith in free(er) markets. Everyone moans about the planning system but it does have its good points.
I did some work a while ago looking at the economics of housebuilding and it's more complicated than people think, and it's difficult to influence development thorough markets. Planning policies aren't perfect but at least you know roughly what you're going to get.
For example, if land is cheap, developers want to build bungalows and if its expensive they build flats or townhouses. If you make more green field land available, nobody would bother to redevelop derelict sites in towns. (and so it goes on).

Friday, October 16, 2009 04:42PM Report Comment

11. need-a-crash said...

mark wadsworth

Surely the problem is that the demand for housing is not equally spread over the country. We have terraced streets being knocked down in Liverpool and high demand in London and the south east. So if indeed the answer to your survey question is 90% or even 99% undeveloped land in England, that doesn't make the case for building more housing in Liverpool (because there's no demand) or necessarily building more in London and the south east because that IS overcrowded.

Friday, October 16, 2009 04:47PM Report Comment

12. Shawkie said...


The problem with your argument is that just relaxing the planning laws won't stop bubbles in residential/commercial property. When these bubbles happen its because everyone believes house prices can only go up. It doesn't matter if there are 5 houses to every person as long as the prices keep going up and as long as they can still borrow the money (which is easy because prices are going up) the demand will still be there. Then suddenly you have a crash and nobody wants the property anymore but the damage has already been done.

On the other hand I think that its totally wrong that people are making huge profits as a result of every planning decision. These profits should be properly distributed. If my neighbour is allowed to build a house in their back garden then by de-valuing my property they are actually stealing from me.

Friday, October 16, 2009 04:52PM Report Comment

13. need-a-crash said...

....and besides I thought we all agreed that high house prices in the UK were due to excessive lending by banks and ramping by VI's not because of an actual shortage of housing?

Friday, October 16, 2009 04:55PM Report Comment

14. Shawkie said...



Friday, October 16, 2009 04:58PM Report Comment

15. mark wadsworth said...

@n-a-c, as to your first comment, the southern half of England is chronically underpopulated. You can draw a line from Bristol to The Wash and only about a quarter of the population live there (either in Bristol or in London) The rest is fields, or little towns. And even if you take "the south east" in the narrower sense (i.e. excluding London), that only about 15% developed by surface area.

You are fooled into thinking that London is crowded, because, er, it is crowded - because so many people (about a fifth of the UK population) are crammed onto one per cent of the surface area. So if you want to end overcrowding in the South East, surely the best way is to build more houses in the South East.

Imagine a big camp site, where everybody has a rolled up tent in their rucksack and they all crowd into one tent in a corner of the site (because it's raining and they can't be bothered putting up their tents). The next morning is fine and sunny, and they all get out of the tent and pitch their own tents somewhere else on the site and spread out a bit. Does the camp site become more or less crowded on the next day?

As to your second comment, there is indeed plenty of housing, but the distribution thereof is very uneven (millions of single pensioners living in 3-bed houses; millions of young couples in one-bed flats, for example). Short of encouraging a more efficient use of existing housing via LVT (or means testing the old age pension on the basis of housing wealth), the only way to help the young couples is to build more. Or even better, have LVT and build more. The UK also has just about the smallest houses in Europe.

Friday, October 16, 2009 05:15PM Report Comment

16. letthemfall said...

mark w: "we'll find that the value of marginal residential sites is broadly equal to its value as agricultural land"

Sounds an optimistic view of the free market, which tends not to be as efficient as that. We've seen rather too much of what the free market can do lately. The free market allows certain individuals to run rampant, whose interest in making money eclipses all else. So we end up with stacks of useless flats on the one hand, and criminal behaviour by the likes of Trafigura on the other. And it has allowed house prices to get to the state they are now. Maybe different taxation would temper that, but the free market has never really solved the major problems in the economy and society.

Friday, October 16, 2009 06:49PM Report Comment

17. Mark Wadsworth said...

@ LTF "we end up with stacks of useless flats on the one hand"

That particular phenomenom has nothing to do with free markets - that's because the govt told builders to build more one-bed flats and stop building family homes. Had it been left to the builders, they'd have built far fewer one-bed flats.

The credit bubble has nothing to do with free markets, that is all down to government subsidies/inaction.

I am saying, as a simple matter of fact, in the parts of the USA where there is little or no planning regulation, there is no difference in the value of marginal residential land and agricultural land. Which is exactly what truly free markets give us.

Friday, October 16, 2009 06:52PM Report Comment

18. clockslinger said...

So food security isn't an issue, quality of life isn't an issue,SSRI, areas of outstanding natural beauty, historical sites, peace and quiet and wildlife are all just taken care of by the market. Building in a less restricted way is the solution of last resort, stopping BTL and using inner city spaces which are massively underutilised isn't even considered here. As for the free market, let's see it roll where it is best in the red meat capitalist environs of investment banking. Not good enough for them, not good enough for my environment and heritage.

Friday, October 16, 2009 07:07PM Report Comment

19. robh said...

I would be in favour of extensions of small towns into the green belt, on the condition that half that number of houses that spoil wild areas are removed (the ones where its 10 miles of open country and you see half a dozen victorian cottages here and there - usually with lawn mowers going). Compulsory purchase

Friday, October 16, 2009 07:38PM Report Comment

20. mark wadsworth said...

@ Clockslinger

"So food security isn't an issue"

It's not really, no. Using up a fifth of a per cent of a tenth of a per cent of UK land to build 750,000 homes won't affect our 'food security' in any big way

"quality of life isn't an issue"

It is very much an issue! If we had bigger cheaper homes, that would do wonders for our quality of life!!

"SSRI, areas of outstanding natural beauty, historical sites, peace and quiet and wildlife are all just taken care of by the market."

Yup. People who care about them can club together and buy up the land for negligible cost and do with it what they want. even if not, all the real AONB's is maybe less than a tenth of the UK by area (Cairngorms, White Cliffs, Lake District, beaches etc) heck, even I would keep those undisturbed.

"stopping BTL and using inner city spaces which are massively underutilised isn't even considered here."

?? I asked a simple factual question.

"As for the free market, let's see it roll where it is best in the red meat capitalist environs of investment banking."

Banking is not free markets, it's all rigged and subsidised etc. Surely you know that?

"Not good enough for them, not good enough for my environment and heritage."

Yes, but is it just your 'heritage'? Or does that 'heritage' also belong to the people who can't afford houses but would be able to if we used up a scintilla of dull and uninspiring farmland?

Friday, October 16, 2009 08:27PM Report Comment

21. jonb said...

needacrash, I think you will find the most densely populated part of Britain is the North West, not the South East.

Friday, October 16, 2009 08:33PM Report Comment

22. letthemfall said...

mark w: "Banking is not free markets, it's all rigged and subsidised etc"

Well that's true now. It wasn't before the crisis, unless you mean in the broader sense that the society & economy is rigged towards those with money. That has become even truer with globalisation, the benefits of which have gone to capital at the expense of labour. I repeat, much of the problems are down to inequality, and the first way to address that is through a more progressive tax system, of which your preferred LVT may well play an important valuable part.

Friday, October 16, 2009 08:52PM Report Comment

23. Scrooge said...

When are people going to realise that it's not about how much land is left to build on but how much sustained wildlife this county can keep, who cares about 10, 20 30 50% it's all having a devistating effect on the wildlife as it is, this country is becoming dangerously close to relying on 90% food imports, what happens when there's a global food shortage & we have all these hungry mouths to feed? You seem to forget most of the food produced in this country is exported because of course money is more important to this selfish fecking Government of ours.

For those idiots who bring up the "just fly over England & see how much green spaces there are" B0ll0x to you, we are a SMALL Island compared to the rest of the world in terms of land area & even smaller when it comes to arable land that produces enough food for every person on it!

(Damn it, I know I should never type silly messages when angry)

Friday, October 16, 2009 09:01PM Report Comment

24. clockslinger said...

Mark W...if folk who care about AONBs etc can club together and buy them, why can't your couples do the same thing with a bit of land to build on, preferably within the circumference of the M25 where it is most needed? Certainly cuts out the percentage the evil developer would take and plenty building land was availible last year despite the planners! Is that a shallow and flippant response?
Seriously, this is trying to compare different things...or rather different values. I don't accept the premise that everything has a price, rather most things of real value don't fit into that category at all and the concept that there is a market price for everything is the single most corrosive notion around. Right, people need decent places to live but they need a lot more too. I still don't accept that relaxing planning/green belt achieves the best result and repeat the point that there is a massive, negligent misuse of space in the middle of the very cities where most housing is needed.

Friday, October 16, 2009 11:50PM Report Comment

25. mark wadsworth said...

@ Clockslinger "if folk who care about AONBs etc can club together and buy them, why can't your couples do the same thing with a bit of land to build on"

Of course they can buy the land, they can snap up enough farmland to build a house on for a few hundred quid. But they can't get planning permission. That is what makes the difference in values between farmland (£5k per acre) and land within the M25 with planning permission for residential (£1 million per acre).

And what's so evil about "developers"? I never said developers were "evil", that's yet another stereotype perpetrated by the Home-Owner-Ist Party. The point is (and I tell my property developer clients this every week), you don't make money by building houses, you make money by getting planning permission and then selling the land to somebody else. That's where you make 90% of your profits. If planning permission were easier to obtain it would be cheaper, hey presto. Do the maths.

Are car manufacturers "evil" because they build cars that people want to buy? Are farmers "evil" because they grow food that people want to buy? Methinks not.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 12:32AM Report Comment

26. rumble said...

"a bit of land to build on, preferably within the circumference of the M25 where it is most needed"
You're encouraging that infestation? Wrong.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 01:23PM Report Comment

27. This comment has been removed as it was found to be in breach of our Blog Policies.


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