Raising the Roof Debate

John Myers spoke at the Raising the Roof debate at the IEA on 31st July 2019, with Luke Murphy of IPPR, Mairead Carroll of London First and Dr Radomir Tylecote of the IEA.

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak.

London YIMBY is a non-partisan campaign to end the housing crisis with the support of local people.

We're not interested in magical thinking. We're not interested in ideas that have been pushed for fifty years but no politician in power will ever be brave enough to do. When homeowners are two thirds of voters, good luck with a reform that annoys nearly all of them.

We're just interested in what might work.

To try to find that we went through literally over a thousand reform ideas, all of which politicians have found too controversial, until we finally found two that we thought could be both popular and effective.

One of them on green belt was partly adopted last year, less than a year after we published it, so I’m going to talk about the other. We call it Better Streets and Radomir has very kindly included it in this IEA report.

When you think of, say, London you probably think of places like Soho, Covent Garden or Bloomsbury. So do all the tourists – that's what they travel round the world to see.

But those beautiful popular historic areas have literally five to ten times the built cubic volume per acre of most of the vast two storey suburban sprawl of Outer London.

Most of Outer London or Cambridge is 1930s two-storey semi-detached houses or similar, often with front gardens concreted over for parking. In London, much of it is within walking distance of a station.

They're perfectly decent houses. They were built for the working classes to buy in the 1930s – at three times average income by the way – but we could make much better use of that land now with taller terraced houses or mansion blocks, of five or six storeys. Even the Elizabethans built to six storeys. Perhaps we could dare to match them.

Just getting planning permission to do that allows you to literally increase the housing on a plot by a factor of five, often making the original street look better if you have the right design. The planning permission is so precious that it will often double the value of the original house, which homeowners tend to like.

In those areas, there is scope to add literally millions more homes over time with contributions from the developers for infrastructure and other important things.

The trick is how to do it without hundreds of thousands of people screaming about overshadowing, noise, congestion and parking, which is why you can’t get permission to do that today.

So our idea is to let residents on each street choose, if they want to, to set a design code for terraced houses or mansion blocks on their street and vote requiring a two-thirds majority to give themselves each permission to add much more housing on their own land.

They're not forced to use it. It's just a permission. They can sit on it, or sell the house with the permission to a small builder, or team up with some neighbours and a developer. Homeowners generally love the idea, because it turns out that a colossal amount of free money is quite popular.

You need to set maximum heights and other rules to protect the neighbours, of course, but that's not too hard. It's a win-win solution that, over time, can get millions more homes built in the places like London or Cambridge with the best job opportunities and the worst housing crisis. We have more detail on our London YIMBY website if you are interested. Thank you very much for listening.