THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITIES IN THE WORLD ARE ALSO SOME OF THE MOST DENSELY PACKED
Do we have room for more homes?
We have plenty! Half of the homes in London are in buildings of only one or two floors. Many of those are semi-detached or detached houses.
The four-storey terraces of Bloomsbury are often much more attractive than some low-rise streets. We have plenty of room to extend or replace existing buildings and make our streets much more attractive and walkable.
Kensington & Chelsea has twice as many homes per square mile as London as a whole, and not many people say Kensington & Chelsea is an ugly place to live. We can build higher, and allow people to turn semi-detached houses into terraces.
Or we could find a few unattractive empty areas near tube stations that aren't open to the public and build on those too.
We can pick some or all of these. Our campaign has an open mind, so long as we get enough homes built.
Isn't the housing crisis caused by empty homes?
If every empty home were occupied, that would only increase available homes by around 3%, and by much less in London.
The UK has far fewer empty homes per head than other European countries. We also have the smallest and most expensive homes in Europe. The real problem is that we just don't have enough of them, especially not in the high-price places near well-paid jobs, where people want to live.
We could ration housing – literally impose a per-square-foot quota on everyone – but we don't think that's politically achievable, and it's much easier to build many more attractive, decent homes. That will make nearly everyone happier and would boost the economy as well.
We are happy to support sensible property tax reform, but we don't think that's the complete answer either. There are plenty of US cities with very high property taxes that still have a housing crisis.
Don't we have enough homes already?
If you mean 'enough for everyone to live close to the job they want without having a rationing system', then the answer is no.
Here's a map showing how far people are forced to commute to London, for example. Just remember all the other people who can't afford jobs where they want. Think of the damage to the environment from all that commuting.
If you are really asking: 'What's the easiest way to fix the housing crisis?', it's simple: get lots more beautiful, decent homes built, near where people want to live. There's plenty of room. We just have a broken system and a lack of imagination. Please go to Paris, Venice and Siena if you don't believe us, or just walk round Kensington & Chelsea.
Building enough homes will decrease inequality, increase opportunity, and boost the economy by about 30%.
Why would we want more ugly buildings?
We don't! And we don't need to. Many new buildings are less beautiful than they should be. That's mainly because the land with permission to build is so expensive – up to 90% of the cost of building a home, in parts of London – that builders scrimp on attractive designs because people are desperate for space to live in.
Locals distrust the planning system because it has permitted so many ugly buildings. Planners feel frustrated because they are under-resourced and get criticized for blocking homes that locals don't want.
We're campaigning for reforms that will mean many more attractive buildings with designs that locals like. Modern technology like computer-controlled stone cutting means that beautiful façades don't need to add much to the building costs. If we decrease the cost of land with planning permission, the overall cost of a home can still go down by a lot.
Isn't it the fault of foreign investors?
Have a look at 'empty homes' above. Foreign investors who keep homes empty or underused are driving up housing costs a little.
However, most of them rent out their properties to someone living in London, which pushes rents down (but prices up).
Rents have been going up for forty years, because we just haven't built enough homes compared to all people who want to live in them.
There's no reason why we shouldn't tax foreign investors more sensibly, like other countries, so that they pay their fair share every year. That would reduce demand from some of them, and probably reduce prices (but increase rents).
But even if they all went away overnight, we'd still have a housing crisis. There just aren't enough empty homes to fix it.
I'm a homeowner – why would I want more homes that would lower my house price?
Great question! We think there's no chance of reform without the support of most existing homeowners.
That's why we're pressing for reforms to ensure attractive building designs that locals like. We're also pressing for permission for homeowners to extend their own homes upwards, sideways (if the neighbours agree) and possibly forward or back.
That would make existing homeowners (and everyone else) better off, because you'll either have more room or be able to sell your property with planning permission for more money.