We should probably try pre-war actually

Sir Michael Lyons, the former chairman of the BBC who is overseeing in Salford one of the largest urban developments in Europe, is by temperament a practical man. He promises he is not interested in “building castles in the air”, but constructing a realistic blueprint for more than 200,000 houses a year being built in England by 2020.

Appointed by Ed Miliband to prepare a plan for Labour to implement in power, he starts by stressing the need for the country collectively to grasp the scale of the problem.

He told the Guardian: “We do need some of the enthusiasm we had in the years immediately after the second world war where we saw it as a duty of government to encourage housebuilding on a much bigger scale.

For the years immediately after WWII were when we had rationing of building materials. Plus the planning acts that restricted the availability of plots. Immediately post war in fact we had piss all house building.

What we’d really like of course is the pre-war attitudes. Where people could build what they wanted, what they thought the market wanted perhaps, pretty much where they wanted to. And, amazingly, lots and lots of houses did in fact get built.

Funny that really, markets working better than bureaucrats.

43 comments on “We should probably try pre-war actually

  1. What we’d really like of course is the pre-war attitudes. Where people could build what they wanted, what they thought the market wanted perhaps, pretty much where they wanted to.

    For that you would have to go back to the previous war. WW1 saw the government promise Homes Fit For Heroes and so local councils were mandated with the task of providing council houses. In doing so, of course, they made sure they restricted the competition.

    I believe A. J. P. Taylor said once that the government never built as many homes in a single year as the private sector managed to do in the years before WW1.

  2. Appointed by Ed Miliband to prepare a plan for Labour to implement in power

    I do wish people would stop telling politicians they are in power, it only encourages them.

    They are in office, we are in power.

  3. You might wish to check your stat’s first before you say things like that.

    New construction between 1918 and 1945 was average 200,000 a year, between 1945 and 1975 was more like 300,000. (and then Home-Owner-ism took over and we more or less stopped building after that).

    Admittedly, population has increased, so if you adjust for that and ignore world wars, up to 1975 or so, new construction chugged along at a sensible level.

    There was no particular change in policies before and after WW2.

  4. They will, of course, not build these houses because whereas the Tories just have the homeowner vote forcing an ever upward rise in prices, Labour is chasing this vote in marginals AND has the Green nutjobs to placate as well.

  5. (and then Home-Owner-ism took over and we more or less stopped building after that)

    Oh, right.

    1978 – we’d more-or-less stopped? 288,550.

    1980 – 239,970

    1985 – must have stopped by now? 200,660 (may not be enough but this is your ‘average between 1918 & 1945 …)

    1990? 202,490

    1995? 199,120

    In 2012, having stopped, clearly by now, we still managed 143,590 …

  6. What are the net numbers?

    Wouldn’t surprise me if the number of demolitions per year is in the 100,000 range. Which means the difference between 400,000 and 200,000 new builds a year is huge.

  7. The basic problem with getting any sense on any of this is that the average green-wellied Tory turns into a raving Stalinist when it comes to land usage control by the State. Because the view from their window, and thus their house price is a, y’know, “public good”.

  8. The problem being that if politicians simply get out of the way and let the market operate they get little credit for the subsequent success.

    Labour, being ideologically opposed to getting out of the way, has little option but to puff up some expensive “plan”, which, even when it doesn’t work, will show how much the parasites “care”.

  9. It would be a help if you people actually read the quote:

    “We do need some of the enthusiasm we had in the years immediately after the second world war where we saw it as a duty of government to encourage housebuilding on a much bigger scale.”

    You will note. The post war Labour government were enthusiastic & saw it as a duty to encourage housebuilding.
    There is no implication a single house got built.

    I would imagine Sir Michael intends to continue in Labour’s long & fine history of enthusiastic promises.

  10. Presumably these will all be built on ‘brownfield’ sites, the definition of which is a bit hazy. Generally it is anywhere at least ten miles away from a home-ownerist’s house.

  11. After WWII ouutside the Labour government mostly built prefabs, temporary housing to replace houses destroyed by bombing, plus a few new towns for Londoners made homeless. Including prefabs they built 1 million houses in six-and-a-bit years – half the pre-war rate. The rise in house-building occurred under MacMillan, such that the housing shortage had been eliminated by the time he retired and local authorities were concentrating on high-quality (the Parker-Morris standards which were far too expensive for young couples buying their own home instead of renting a council house).
    Mark Wadsworth is giving utterly irrelevant comparisons by including six years of year in 1919-45 and seventeen years of Conservative government in the post-war era.
    Tim is right: see
    http://www.building.co.uk/housebuilding-needs-to-learn-the-lessons-of-the-1930s/50124
    “During the 1930s, Britain was hit by the global depression – but did not suffer as much as some other countries. Part of the reason for this was the unleashing of an astonishing building boom, with well over 300,000 homes built each year throughout most of the decade.”

  12. @ Luke
    You do need to remember those prefabs john77 mentioned would have been included under “housebuilding”. Have you ever seen, let alone been in a “prefab”? It’s somewhat reminiscent of a garage with windows partitioned out for keeping rabbits.

  13. And those prefabs were probably not meant to last the 100-200 year design life of your normal house. I lived in one in Aberdeen for a few weeks, it was on stilts, presumably to keep the damp out.

    It’s all about affordability though. Plenty of them are free-standing in less well-to-do areas. Compare that to the now affluent suburb my parents live in, where people pay around 800k for rather solid 50s/60s bungalows (most of them since multiply extended) on large plots, then knock them down to replace them with a custom-designed mansion.

  14. Churchill had a grand plan to build half a million prefab houses, Attlee cut it to 300,000, and about half that number were eventually built. I learnt about it in a prefab primary school built in the late 1940s. Remarkably, it’s still in use.

    What stands out in the data is that construction dipped in the early nineties when house prices dipped, and fell in 2008-9 when house prices fell. The obvious explanation is that developers will tend to delay building houses when house prices are relatively low. That makes business sense if there’s an expectation of rising prices in the medium term.

    It’s not obvious to me how relaxing planning laws would change that.

  15. “And those prefabs were probably not meant to last the 100-200 year design life of your normal house.”

    It may come as a surprise to you, but apart from cathedrals, some public edifices & maybe the odd royal palace there’s no buildings, let alone houses, that have ever been built with a design life of much more than 40 years. Certainly not current ones , bearing in mind the amount of plastics used in construction. Rule of thumb is, it’ll see out whoever commissioned it.

  16. PaulB-

    It’s not obvious to me how relaxing planning laws would change that.

    If there were no expectation of future rising prices, that would kill that effect. CUrrently, a developer can expect another bubble to come along shortly.

  17. Ian’s quite correct. Developing is the business of turning land into homes. It’s no different from turning steel into cars. The money’s made in the throughput. It’d be a strange world where car manufacturers were sitting on steel stocks awaiting the next car bubble.
    But regarding the liability* of domestic housing as an investment asset produces a strange world.

    See above comment @ 17:55

  18. Ian, are you saying that if planning laws were relaxed, house prices would no longer fall in a recession, especially when credit becomes much less available?

  19. “… if planning laws were relaxed, house prices would no longer fall in a recession, especially when credit becomes much less available?”
    If planning laws were relaxed & there was a housing surplus, houses would already have fallen to their utility value. Being that the utility of a house – having somewhere to live is a pretty basic need – wouldn’t fall in a recession, why should the demand? It’s the investment value of housing changes. Not the utility value.

  20. Will these ‘houses’ be up or along?
    And the roads and rail to service them. And will there be any farms?
    After all you could pull down stoneheng and all those cathedrals and such like. Get quite a big dormitary then.

  21. To those wittering about prefabs, I have no idea how many were built. But (a) pre-fabs was probably an appropriate solution for a country that was short of cash ‘cos of a war and short of homes ‘cos of bombing-I’m ignoring that they lasted a long time, (b) a lot of young people are living in cramped conditions, and would love a pre-fab.

    (My 1910(?) converted flat is pretty crap if you ignore location.)

  22. Ian, are you saying that if planning laws were relaxed, house prices would no longer fall in a recession, especially when credit becomes much less available?

    I know IanB is more than capable do saying this himself, but you’d do well to read what people wrote instead of trying to shove words in their mouths.

  23. I know of some post war prefabs overlooking a sixties housing estate. They are vastly better kept. I know where I would rather live.

  24. May well be true, Rob, but one can’t include them in a comparison of building rates post war/now. Because post war prefabs wouldn’t meet a host of regulations now required for building a house. Habitable room sizes, for a start, let alone construction, insulation, energy efficiency…
    It’s the big problem with comparing house building rates against period. The comparison is not being done for the same thing.

  25. What excellent advice TimN. If for once in your online life you were to follow it, you’d see that I asked a question.

    Nice try. When somebody – especially a pompous arse like you – starts a sentence with “So are you saying….?” then you are not merely asking a question, you’re trying to shove words down somebody’s throat. For example:

    “So PaulB, are you saying that you are a complete twat after all?”

    is hardly a question posed in order to receive an informative answer, is it? Yours was no different.

    You know full well what IanB meant, you’re being deliberately obtuse, as per usual.

  26. @ Luke
    1 million in six years of which about one-third were only ever intended to be temporary dwellings until the nation was able to build permanent replacement for the houses destroyed in the war. Are you completely bullshitting or are you out of your tiny mind?

  27. It’s not obvious to me how relaxing planning laws would change that.

    Do you really think our ancestors said ‘well, got me some land, but, you know, I can’t put a house on it because no-one’s invented property developers yet’?

    The hard part of building a house in the UK is getting the bureaucrats to allow you to build it, which is why most of them are built by property developers, because they own most of the land with planning permission and have easiest time getting permission for more land.

    Over here, in contrast, you can just go to a house shop, say ‘I’ll take that one’, and have it delivered on the back of a truck. You’ll probably have to hire someone to build the basement and connect it all up, but why should it be any more complex than that?

  28. @ bis
    My college rooms had been internally refurbished/upgraded a number of times in the past millennium (the college had bought and adapted in the Plantagenet era some pre-existing houses that allegedly dated from the 10th century).
    There used to be two standard leases – one for 99 years, one for 999 years. Only an idiot would take out a 99 year lease and design a building to last 40 years.
    Only cathedrals and stately homes? – I grew up in a five-bedroom Edwardian semi-detached which was obviously designed to last 200+ years and the village had a saxon church (well, the tower was saxon, most of the rest had been rebuilt over the centuries when the church needed to expand in line with the population of the parish).

  29. @ PaulB
    Are you sure only c.150k of pre-fabs? I saw an awful lot of them when I was a kid.
    @ Rob
    I must presume that you live somewhere with mild winters – metal prefabs are *cold*

  30. I have to say you Brits are amateurs when it comes to home building. 200,000 new starts a year in a population of what 63 million. Down under the 10 year average of new home construction is 155,000 in a population 22 million.

    It would seem that having a goal of 200,000 per year is not very ambitious. Given the likelihood of constant under supply in the UK I might try a bit of UK property speculation.

    Must try harder

  31. I wish I got this much support when I’m doing one of my “saucy wenches are the basis of Western Civilisation” rants. Oh well :)

    PaulB-

    The short answer to what I intended to mean was that the property market is currently dependent on two things; supply restriction via planning laws, and the supply of excess (above market levels) credit, which combine to over the long run raise property prices above (general aggrgegate) inflation. Thus, the sharp fall in credit (for property purchases) you refer to is a consequence of bubbling and not a natural free market process.

    Thus, without the supply restriction, there would be no demand for the excess credit, no excessive property pricing, and housing would no longer be seen as a productive investment but as a consumer good. There is no reason for any specific prices to fall during a recession (indeed, the CPI has not gone below zero during this one) unless the recession itself happened to be due to a property bubble caused by some other factor.

    The problem here probably is that we prefer different models; yours is sorta Keynesian and mine mostly Austrian. So you believe in aggregate deflation, and I don’t. This probably can’t be reconciled.

  32. Offshore-

    You’re surely right. The figure is too low. I seem to remember discussing this here before with Bloke In Spain, but one of my major memories of doing domestic electrical work in London was the dismal state of so much of the housing stock; knacked old rubbish that needed knocking down and replacing. But it’s so difficult to get permission to do anything here, it’s cheaper to slap on another layer of plasterboard over the crumbling walls and some magnolia on the woodwork and make it last for another ten years.

  33. I asked a question because I wanted to know the answer.

    If true, then you are as incapable of following a discussion on economics as any other. But I’d be more inclined to believe you’ve yet again been caught out being a pompous arse, and are resorting to slippery-shit behaviour, as usual.

  34. I wish I got this much support when I’m doing one of my “saucy wenches are the basis of Western Civilisation” rants.

    I might not necessarily agree with these rants, but I do find them interesting and enjoy reading them.

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