What the hell are these people playing at?

Plans to build thousands of new homes in 10 towns and cities across the country have been unveiled by the Government.

The Treasury will pay £200million towards the cost of getting the “brownfield” sites ready for new homes, ministers said.

Brandon Lewis, the new Planning and Housing minister, said the cash would ensure that greenfield areas across England are protected from builders, because it would mean that developers’ resources were more focused on meeting a share of housing need in towns and cities.

The equivalent statement is that those greenfield sites are worth £200 million. Anyone actually believe that?

52 comments on “What the hell are these people playing at?

  1. Surely it’s saying that the remediation cost to get the sites to the point where they’re fit for housebuilding is £200m (or more as the government is only paying towards it)? Su often say about jobs, that’s a cost, not a benefit

  2. If the brownfield sites are in desirable areas they’d be built on anyway without government help. This is just gifting £200m to building companies.

  3. Not necessarily gifting them £200M. Could equally be seen as compensating them for not being able to build where the consumers want the houses built.

  4. The consumers might want the houses built there, but the people who paid premiums NOT to live crowded together cheek- by- jowl with others clearly don’t…

  5. Where the consumers WANT the houses built! Wash your bloody mouth out. The gov’t is deciding for us where we NEED our houses built. That’s jolly nice of it – and quite clever! So a little bit of gratitude would be in order I think.

  6. Nothing would serve the housing market better than the constant risk that your leafy suburb might get a big housing estate full of immigrantsandchavs next to it.

  7. Round where I live the chaos aren’t immigrants. But we digress.
    As long as those brownfield sites aren’t in my back yard.

  8. Ian B – that’s a depressing dystopia you have in prospect for us. You’d make a fine commissar and sadly your time may come.

  9. Flatcap, I think what Tim’s getting at is that this £200m is part of the cost of ‘protecting’ those greenfield sites from development.

    It;s being paid not to build on the brownfield sites but to stop building on the greenfield ones.

  10. @Richard – I see what you’re getting at – it’s not the sites that are worth £200m, it’s the votes

  11. Flatcap Army has part of the point.
    But most of it is that the sites require cleaning up due to Elf and Safety regulations whether they are used for housing or not. It is not that the greenfield sites are worth £200m as the brownfield sites being worth -£200m.

  12. @ Ironman
    Most people would prefer not to spend two or three hours a day commuting, so lots of people would prefer to live fairly close to work. I expect a lot of consumers want to live on a cleaned-up brownfield site: look at the prices people pay to live in Docklands.

  13. But the £200 million “remediation costs” are the costs government itself imposes on brownfield sites. Because it insists on brownfield sites being raised to the standard of greenfield sites.
    There’s not much better a solution to contaminated industrial land than capping it with concrete & building high density apartment blocks on it. A solution to housing need seen in almost every city in Europe, if not the world. It’s only in the UK, housing need can only be satisfied by three bedroom semis with a scrappy patch of garden. Which reflects the UK’s insane view of housing.

  14. Meissen-

    “Commissar”? For saying that people should be free to build wherever they want? How is that a commissar type thing?

  15. You can’t answer that question without knowing how many properties are to be built. I understand there are 180,000 plots available (Federation of housebuilders); if this is all being used, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable or unlikely. If fewer, how many? Need more data.

  16. There’s not much better a solution to contaminated industrial land than capping it with concrete & building high density apartment blocks on it. A solution to housing need seen in almost every city in Europe, if not the world. It’s only in the UK, housing need can only be satisfied by three bedroom semis with a scrappy patch of garden. Which reflects the UK’s insane view of housing.

    Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap!!

  17. Ian B: “Commissar”? For saying that people should be free to build wherever they want? How is that a commissar type thing?

    No, for saying (yours at 08:06) that it would be a good thing for people to be constantly destabilised at the whim of the State.

  18. Looking at it one way, it’s almost a case of the system working to give people what they value.
    The Green Belt and acres of legislation piled up on building on greenfield sites is, at the moment, popular amongst the public. Despite ignorance of the details and overall implications, they tend to be insistent that this is what they want. They’re pooling their desires to make a single externality (probably not the right word, but the theme is similar) imposed upon building of houses where they are otherwise desired.
    The people also desire more houses in thses areas, despite the extra costs. Fine. Someone has to pay for them.
    This way, public money goes some way to offset the extra costs imposed by the desires of the public. Not ideal, by any means (better would be to remove the pointless “externality” (or whatever I should really call it) instead, but this way, at least the costs imposed by the masses are shared to some small degree by the masses.

  19. “No, for saying (yours at 08:06) that it would be a good thing for people to be constantly destabilised at the whim of the State.”

    Being “destabilised” is the natural state. What you’re saying is the State should impose stability where stability would not exist otherwise.

  20. Meissen-

    No, for saying (yours at 08:06) that it would be a good thing for people to be constantly destabilised at the whim of the State

    I didn’t say that. I said that the State shouldn’t be artificially controlling the market to prevent new building in desirable areas, in order to falsely prop up (voters’) property values.

    If there were a free market, and people could build wherever they want, it would help dispel the myth that a house should act as a store of value and an “investment”, since more building in desirable areas would bring the general property values down as they ceased to be so “exclusive”.

  21. To add to the above:
    I’m currently sitting in a house where the school playing fields, one the other side of the back-garden hedge, is now a housing estate. This was, of course, highly unpopular with the house-owners in the street. Looking out the front window, past the house opposite, I can see the trees in the gardens of the houses front the main road. No doubt the building of this house was equally unpopular there.
    Are we expected to accept stasis in housebuilding to protect vested interests?

  22. @Ian
    It’s essentially that store of value, the investment aspect, that’s the problem.
    Because buying a house requires a sum of money way past its contemporary amenity value it requires tomorrow’s money. Credit creation. Therefore the “investment” is in the future value of the house, which needs protecting to secure the investment.
    It’s hard to think of any consumer durable, which is what a house is, you’d want to do that with.

  23. I’m saying that if the State has ordained the existence of Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and so on, then people who value these things may buy houses or spend leisure time there.

    It’s not unreasonable to assume that yesterday’s ‘protection’ should remain in force tomorrow but it’s sadly a bit naive.

    To live in a leafy suburb but under the constant threat of a housing estate being decreed goes beyond the uncertainties that of necessity crowd around us and is a feature of a malevolent and unaccountable authority – hence commissar.

  24. @Ian B

    ‘Nothing would serve the housing market better than the constant risk that your leafy suburb might get a big housing estate full of immigrantsandchavs next to it.’

    I’ve come to the realisation that actually this is what the government doesn’t want.

    It has fuck all to do with the desire of people like me to live in leafy villages with no chavs.

    It has everything to do with the fact that millions of people like me who do currently live in leafy villages with no chavs are unable or unwilling to see, or amenable to deception as to the fact, that large swathes of the country have been taken over by chavs.

    Currently, we live in my village broadly as people have lived in England for a hundred years or so.

    We don’t kick up about the shitbags rampaging through nearby towns and estates because we don’t have to see, hear and confront them.

    Thus the government is not under any real pressure to do anything about it, because the poor decent bastards who have to live alongside the shitbags are not regarded as a problem, electorally.

  25. Bloke Not In Spain-

    That’s the point really. Unless houses are exposed to real market conditions, the future value is not set correctly, which results in them being overpriced. Compare, “this property is set in a beautiful setting of unspoilt countryside” with “this property is set in a currently beautiful setting of countryside that has not been built on yet“.

    Put another way, if current property owners wanted to ensure that their surroundings remain undeveloped, they would need contractual arrangements with the surrounding landowners which would involve compensation for the financial loss due to not developing their land.

  26. Interested-

    I think there is something in that. It’s interesting to note that complaints as to the alteration of urban environments, particularly by immigration, or by “gentrification”, the latest thing, have been actively dismissed by the same State that preserves the “countryside environment”.

  27. @Ian B – the only way to genuinely guarantee that land remains unbuilt on is to buy it yourself; I don’t have an awful lot of sympathy for those who try to stop others building on their own property in order to preserve the amenity/financial value of the NIMBY’s house

  28. @Flatcap

    ‘@Ian B – the only way to genuinely guarantee that land remains unbuilt on is to buy it yourself; I don’t have an awful lot of sympathy for those who try to stop others building on their own property in order to preserve the amenity/financial value of the NIMBY’s house’

    True. A village not too far from mine, Cranham, home to Lily Allen of vile lyrics and moronic father fame (though she occasionally does the teas at the cricket club and is actually a reasonable bird), clubbed together to buy 70 acres of land in and around the village.

    Cost them £100,000, which for 70 acres of buildable land in a secluded, picturesque and rural Gloucestershire Cotswolds valley, was astonishingly cheap. I don’t know the full ins and outs, but I suspect pressure was put on the landowner to do the decent thing.

    But not everyone can do that, I guess.

  29. The point being that the actual free market price of an unspoilt view is often very costly, which is why the State shouldn’t be providing them by regulation. It is an enormous homeowner subsidy.

  30. Absolutely (and obviously).

    However, I suppose there is an argument, to which I don’t wholly subscribe, that the State (via money extracted in probably disproportionate amounts from people who live in leafy villages) subsidises all sorts of other costly things which are of no benefit to those people in leafy villages.

    On that basis, it is perhaps not wholly unreasonable to use some of the tax money extracted from leafy villagers to do up some brownfield sites, rather than build in the privately-owned fields behind my house.

    That said, I have to say in my case I would on ideological grounds not object too strenuously to a proposal to build on the privately owned fields behind my house.

    That is, I might object via the democratic planning system, but no more than that.

  31. Ian B – make your mind up. If the free market price of an unspoilt view is very costly, where does the home owner subsidy occur?

    Surely the contrary is true. Forfeiting the unspoilt view is a loss of value to the home owner. If the unspoilt view is removed in a ‘protected’ area, then it’s the State that’s destroyed the value for the individual.

    That commissar thing any clearer for you yet?

  32. “that the State (via money extracted in probably disproportionate amounts from people who live in leafy villages) subsidises all sorts of other costly things which are of no benefit to those people in leafy villages.”

    In part, it’s that inexplicable Brit desire to live in leafy villages. Fair enough if they desired to do exclusively leafy village things, But they also want access to the full range of amenities. Meaning said leafy villages must be in close proximity to major conurbations.
    There is a contradiction ,somewhere.

  33. @B(n)iS

    ‘In part, it’s that inexplicable Brit desire to live in leafy villages. Fair enough if they desired to do exclusively leafy village things, But they also want access to the full range of amenities. Meaning said leafy villages must be in close proximity to major conurbations.
    There is a contradiction ,somewhere.’

    But what ‘inexplicable desire to live in leafy villages’?

    It’s a) explicable (quiet, serenity, courtesy, knowing your neighbours etc)

    and

    b) not universal – a lot of people who live in cities and towns seem happy enough to do so (and if they are unhappy and would rather live in a leafy village then that desire is not inexplicable).

    Sure, we want amenities. But we pay for most of them – the private ones through paying for them, the public ones through tax.

    Plus our village is full every weekend with townies coming up to enjoy the pubs, the Cotswold stone buildings and the views.

    Further plus, you could live in our village and never leave if you wished. It either has everything you need or you can get it delivered.

  34. Meissen,

    I don’t mean to be rude, but you seem to be talking out of your arse at the moment so far as I can tell.

    If the unspoilt view is removed in a ‘protected’ area, then it’s the State that’s destroyed the value for the individual.

    The “protection” of the “protected” area is the subsidy. The State isn’t destroying value. It’s ceasing to create value for the homeowner- which he has previously profited from by the State “protection” by having an unspoilt view (the value of which is incorporated in his house price).

    The land is currently governed by commissars. I’m arguing for that to be abolished.

    Is that clear?

  35. @Interested
    If Britain’s leafy villages were economically independent, fair enough. But where leafy villages are required to be economically independent – some of the further flung parts of the UK – they’re where people are leaving to move closer to the big cities to enjoy the amenities. Like employment opportunities.
    Trying to make out Cotswold villages are some sort.of self sustaining entities is purest bollocks. They profit from being within the economic area of the London conurbation. It’s an attempt to get the benefits without the consequences via regulation.

  36. Ian B: I don’t mean to be rude
    …but without success, I’m afraid, which is a pity as it’s not hard.

    You’ve said yourself that there’s a premium to be paid in the free market for a nice view. You’re quite right.

    You would also be right if you said that there was a subsidy or more properly a gift made to house owners at the time that a protection was put in place but these protections are mainly decades old and that’s not what I understand you to be saying anyhow.

    You seem to be saying that a nice view commands a premium in the free market and simultaneously benefits from a public subsidy which would be nonsense.

  37. @TMB
    “You would also be right if you said that there was a subsidy or more properly a gift made to house owners at the time that a protection was put in place but these protections are mainly decades old…”

    You’re treating this as if subsidy or gift was a one-off cost. As far as the community at large is concerned it’s an on-going opportunity cost. The value is reflected in the price of existing properties.

  38. John

    I agree. Many people would, particularly if the clean up costs are borne by someone else. The question then is of course whether the actual costs to the taxpayer is greater than the social costs of losing the greenfield site.

  39. Meissen-

    Ian B: I don’t mean to be rude
    …but without success, I’m afraid, which is a pity as it’s not hard.

    I refer you to this post. “I don’t mean to be rude” is a variation on “with the greatest respect”.

  40. @ Ironman
    I think b(n)is explains the majority, but not all of the cost. Nevertheless there are some sites that genuinely need cleaning up: the USA imposes remediation costs of sites on the past insurers of any company occupying the site (knowing that most of the Reinsurance is borne by LLoyd’s of London) but some UK sites have been inn use since before Lloyd’s branched out from marine into non-marine insurance so there was no insurer when some of the worst pollution occurred.
    Apart from seriously toxic pollution I think a lot of people would tackle some of the remediation themselves – DIY is a major industry in the UK (and I remember that my parents told me that as soon as my father had got the garden sorted, the firm moved him so he had left a little bit in their fifth house – we moved in when I was 6 – unsorted).
    The social cost is, in my view, less the destruction of a few greenfield acres and more the cost in pollution and time of the hours of commuting and driving, instead of walking, kids to school.
    After saying all that I still don’t know the answer to “whether the actual costs to the taxpayer is greater than the social costs of losing the greenfield site”. I *think* that we should use brownfield sites, but I don’t pretend to know.

  41. @B(n)iS

    ‘@Interested
    Trying to make out Cotswold villages are some sort.of self sustaining entities is purest bollocks.’

    It would be, if I had done. But I didn’t. I said individuals could live in a village like mine and never leave, which is true.

    Beyond that I said, sure, we need and use services outside the village… which we pay for.

    That ‘pay for’ bit being quite important.

    (It seems to me that you could make the argument – which, I repeat, I was not – that in at least one sense it means we actually are self-sustaining. That sense being that the number of people on unemployment benefit in my village, and thus being ‘sustained’ by another ‘self’, is approaching zero, while the number of people on UB in the nearest town is considerably higher. This is not a criticism of those on UB, merely to address, in one way, your ‘self-sustaining’ point.)

    Beyond that, in what way, as a matter of interest, is any larger agglomeration of houses a ‘self-sustaining entity’?

    I’d wager that most of the food London consumes isn’t produced in London. As a for-instance.

  42. “those greenfield sites are worth £200 million”

    It doesn’t say how many “thousands” of houses, but given a housing plot with planning permission in the South of England will be worth around £100K, then if “thousands” means twenty thousand, yes, they are worth that.

    Accepted, of course, that it’s scarcity value that causes this, and if 20,000 or more were actually put on the market, the price would naturally fall.

  43. The point being that the actual free market price of an unspoilt view is often very costly

    Actually, it’s very cheap. The problem is, as always, people want the unspoiled view plus a walk to the shops, cinema, work, high-speed internet, etc. If they got themselves somewhere out near Lampeter they could find a view for not much money at all.

  44. @Interested.
    Would have presumed my description of self sustaining entities is fairly obviously in economic terms. The fact that your unemployment rate in the Cotswolds is low shows there’s money coming in from outside. Not dissimilar from the nominally agricultural, stockbroker belt “village” I’m writing this. The amount of people round here employed in agriculture or its service industry is minute. The whole economy’s based on the London commute.
    Contrast with some back of beyond village in the Fens the youngsters are scrambling to get away from, soon as they’re able, because their employment opportunities are zero. They’re economically self sufficient, for a low value of economic activity.

  45. @ b(n)iS
    When I read the (New Labour-endorsed) plan for North Harlow it envisaged tens of thousands commuting to Cambridgeshire, since resultant employment growth in East Herts was totally accounted for by teachers at the primary school, school dinner-ladies, and the bus drivers for the school bus.
    So do not write in the village in the Fens – the kids can cycle to the Cambridge Science Park, which is (one of) the fast-growing employment area(s) in the UK..

  46. @John77
    Oh I only used the Fens ‘coz I’ll be visiting a mate has got a house there. He works on the rigs but that’s his UK home. Bought the place dirt cheap because it’s the arse end of nowhere. Last time I visited, the average age in the village pub seemed about 70. Maybe it’s a thriving metropolis, nowadays. Although, from what I hear, that’d be a Bulgarian speaking on.

  47. @B(n)iS

    As I pointed out, I never said Cotswold villages were self-sustaining. In fact I said they were not. I just made the point that some people could (and do, effectively) spend their whole lives here, because they can, and, beyond that, that nowhere is wholly self-sustaining, we’re all inter-linked.

    I can’t see what’s controversial or difficult about that, but you could start a row while having a shave, and probably do.

    The (very minor and slightly tangential) point I made about UB claimants in our village is that we – as individuals who make up the village – are more self-sustaining that some townies.

    I didn’t say completely, I don’t think anyone is.

    Anyway. off to the pub now to sustain myself with a pint or two of Uley Brewery Pig’s Ear. Highly recommended, whether villager or townie.

  48. It’s only in the UK, housing need can only be satisfied by three bedroom semis with a scrappy patch of garden.

    Indeed. In most of the developed, English-speaking world, a three-bed semi would be considered a starter home, at best. That the British put up with central planning of housing is bizarre, to say the least.

  49. I have to agree with Interested, self – sustaining really is a meaningless concept and has been in the UK for well over 100 years now.

  50. I wouldn’t have thought the concept of an economically self-sufficient village would be too hard to grasp. It’s one where the wealth produced within it equals or exceeds the wealth its inhabitants consume. Many of the leafier villages depend on the net inflow of wealth form whichever conurbation they’re in the proximity of. It’s that which largely drives the local economy. I can tell you their wouldn’t be the interest in antique shops boutiques & saddleries round here if they were dependent on agriculture the odd light engineering business. This overly leafed village is simply an outpost of London, pretending to be rural. But of course, extremely protectionist when it comes to any more Londoners setting up home next door.

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