Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Britain is NOT a crowded island

Generalised Land Use Database

You can download a spreadsheet from this site showing how land in England is used (you have to insert your own totals at the top of the columns). Land use is broadly as follows: homes and gardens 5.4%, non-domestic buildings 0.7%, roads, paths, railways 2.4%, 'other' 1.4%. Yup, only 9.9% of England, supposedly "the most crowded nation in Europe" has been built on or developed. 90.1% is either 'green spaces' (mainly farmland or forests) and 2.6% is water. If you do a guesstimate for the UK as a whole, only about 6.4% is built on or developed. So forgive me if I fail to go into a palpitations when somebody suggests building a few more houses or an airport or power station or something.

Posted by mark wadsworth @ 09:14 PM (1959 views)
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28 thoughts on “Britain is NOT a crowded island

  • tenyearstogetmymoneyback says:

    I suspected this from just driving around.

    Another thing to note is that unlike Japan (which has loads of Mountains) most of the remaining land could easily be developed
    (although it might be easier to move a mountain – which the Japanese have done – than fight off some Nimbys)

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  • general congreve says:

    Putting a figure like 9.9% out there is all well and good, but how do we compare to other countries, especially in europe?

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  • general congreve says:

    Putting a figure like 9.9% out there is all well and good, but how do we compare to other countries, especially in europe?

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  • general congreve says:

    @3 – Double post weirdness, only clicked once!

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  • There is tons of space & land, but I think the UK is over-crowded with regards to the infrastructure that is available i.e. schools, roads etc.

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  • The south east is too crowded but Scotland is mostly empty. Anyway , why should every bit of space be built on? 10% development is plenty.

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  • Someone once said that if 2% of agricultural land was used for building homes we could increase the housing stock by 50%. Probably not true, but if increasing the percentage of developed land by a few percent – to 11 or 12%, greatly improved the lives of Britons by increasing their living space – why not?

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  • That 2% will soon fill up with the extra 400k immigrants coming in every year.

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  • I’m drifting a bit here but I recently noticed an old topic posting on the Singing Pig site by ‘Dr Bubb’:

    ‘I’m back, having made some money on Hong Kong property, but having had a “very good scare” when prices fell by 25% in a matter of weeks here, and then climbed back to the peak.’

    http://www.singingpig.co.uk/forums/thread/911302.aspx

    Now Hong Kong really is a crowded island yet the vicious price swings he describes clearly have little to do with stable markets driven purely by supply an demand.

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    Khards, that’s a classic bit of Home-Owner-Ist cant: “That 2% will soon fill up with the extra 400k immigrants coming in every year.”

    Those are two completely separate topics – how many houses we build (for ourselves) and how many foreigners we let it.

    Or do you think that by forcing young people to live in much smaller, more expensive and badly built homes than is economically justifiable is our only way of preventing mass migration – along the lines of “Hey Johnny Foreigner! Just see how badly we treat our own people! Just imagine how badly we’ll treat you!!”

    In any event, where on earth did you get your 400,000 figure from? I accept that Labour opened the floodgates and that we have suffered from this, but even in the maddest years, net immigration from ‘New Commonwealth’, the new ten EU countries and ‘Rest of World’ was between 100,000 and 200,000 a year. And as much as I dislike the Tories, this is one thing that they will probably get right.

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    HPW: “There is tons of space & land, but I think the UK is over-crowded with regards to the infrastructure that is available i.e. schools, roads etc.”

    OK, let’s use up a bit of that space for schools, roads, and then build the houses round them?

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  • MW,

    I’m not as keen as you are on building on green space. However I would also like to see our planning rules relaxed so that we can have more high-rise buildings. So much of our towns and cities consist of 2-3 storey terraces and semi-detached homes; whereas in mainland Europe we more often see 5-6 story blocks of large well-designed flats. If the NIMBYs won’t let us build outwards, will they at least let us build upwards?

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  • Start by creating decent jobs and a sustainable economy before building more low quality houses. Then we look after our own numpties rather than importing cheap labour while they are either excluded or sit on their unmotivated backsides. Get rid of soft degree courses therefore eliminating the requirement for student loans and get those that are not up to doing quality degree courses into work based learning.

    Sorted.

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  • Chaps, backed up totally by my beer infused discussions with one of the London Biz School acadekicw. Wont say which one as he writes for Policy Exchange.

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  • I mean academics, blojjdy smart phones!

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    Drewster: “If the NIMBYs won’t let us build outwards, will they at least let us build upwards?”

    Cue the NIMBY chorus: “Do you mean garden grabbing? Stealing our light? Putting pressure on local services? Making our cities even more over-crowded? What about parking? It’s all the immigrants to blame you know! When I was young we got married and saved up for a house, we didn’t send out wives out to work to pay a mortgage!”

    I don’t think that the NIMBYs will like this idea one bit – see also the poor bloke who wanted to squeeze a 14 foot wide house into a gap in a street in Manchester.

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  • Excellent post – it bears out what I’ve thought every time I get on a flight and look out the window over UK cities – there is just a miniscule amount of built up areas in this country.

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  • I think parts of Europe may be much more crowded than here. In Switzerland they build blocks of flats out in the country (which looks very strange) and very few people live in houses. Even if you live in town you may see cows grazing your communal back garden, as farmers graze them everywhere due to shortage/expense of pastures.

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  • All that farmland we think is “natural” is actually far from it. There is very little left of Britain that hasn’t been changed by human hands. Building homes on green fields needn’t be an anathema if done correctly. This would mean not building a Wimpey/Barratt style tarmacked estate but numerous small “Garden Hamlets” whereby residents sign a covenant to practice permaculture on a shared parcel of land. Effectively a small allotment co-operative they could share the produce they grow or sell at local markets.

    Breaking up the monotony of monoculture fields will actually be very beneficial to the environment by bringing biodiversity to fields that are effectively lifeless and need fertilisers to make things grow. Residents of these Garden Hamlets would effectively be custodians of the natural environment/countryside.

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  • 5. hpwatcher said…”There is tons of space & land, but I think the UK is over-crowded with regards to the infrastructure that is available i.e. schools, roads etc.

    You beat me to it. Let’s also add the ‘dynamics of property’ to that list.

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  • The 10% of the UK being built-up is misleading in terms of our capacity for growth. Draw an elipse from Brighton up to roughly Preston and Leeds, and it’ll cover, I estimate, close to 40million people living in the densely populated heart of the country; an area that is (from a quick look at a map) about 1/8th of the UK’s land mass. This heartland – the economic driver and the area most people want to live in – has much less capacity for further development than tathe UK when considered in terms of space. Other parts of the UK with plenty of space have less capacity to develop due to not having a robust economic base.

    Remember also that the proportion of land from which urbanity can be seen is much higher than the proportion on which it is developed.

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  • @17: Not the “when I look out the plane window” thing again. @18: the point about Switzerland is telling – they dont allow suburban sprawl because it is a terribly inefficient way to use valuable land. I hate suburbs – grew up in one, scared for life! I’m as much against NIMBYS as most on here but I do think we should have proper planning led development not lassez faire which extrernalises the cost of grossly inefficient transport infrastructure. Planners should be allowed to plan! At present the role they are allotted is a defensive one: “development control”. Under this proviso I favour some greenfield development.

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    @ Greenmind. Forget bureaucrats, and imagine for a few minutes that we had land value tax. This would be much higher in town centres than in suburbs, and much higher in suburbs than the outer periphery.

    So if you compare a few separate plots with different amounts of LVT on them, on which plot is the owner most likely to want to squeeze out the best/most use (i.e. maximum use of transport infrastructure)? The guy in the inner suburb whose bill is £100 per square yard per year, or the guy in the outer periphery (or indeed in very cheap areas like Burnley, Aberdeen, whatever) where the bill is only £30 per square yard per year?

    NB, assume for the purposes of this thought experiment that all other taxes, income tax, VAT, corproation tax, Council Tax, Business Rates etc have been scrapped.

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  • Overcrowding occurs when you can’t grow enough food to feed yourself – and we can’t. We can’t expect the rest of the world to sell us cheap food for much longer.

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  • MW, I’m with you all the way on LVT. Never heard of it before I started taking an interest in this site, so you can count me as a convert!

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  • OK, let’s use up a bit of that space for schools, roads, and then build the houses round them?

    cool, can I have some of that space then?

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  • mark wadsworth says:

    GM, thanks. I’d never heard of LVT until four years ago and initially it struck me as a bit mad. But the more people try and argue against it the more I am convinced it is the way forward. None of the arguments against stack up, especially if you take the argument, subsitute “income tax” for “land value tax” and then throw it back in their faces.

    HPW, yes of course you can. It’s there. let’s use it.

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  • 26. hpwatcher

    It’s all ‘our’ space and it’s free. Who hijacked it? Now there is a question.

    The answer is at the root of the problem.

    Le Crunch.

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