Reuben’s Rant number 4: Let’s build on the greenbelt already!

This post was written by Reuben on April 27, 2010
Posted Under: Uncategorized

It’s been a long time coming, but I hope you enjoy my fourth rant. It’s high time we built on the greenbelt, and told wilderness lovers to get stuffed.


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Reader Comments


1) Demand has increased for a variety of reasons – immigration (which is a good thing), population increase (which is due to the former: fertility rates are on the decline and at any rate I’d hope you wouldn’t advocate child limitation policies to reduce housing demand) and, thirdly, “more people are living alone for longer”.

It seems to me that this last one might be more of a problem than not building on green belts. Family break up is bad for lots of reasons, an increase in housing demand being the least bad of these. But since you’re a socialist and don’t mind regulating, couldn’t the government take a stronger line on trying to help families stay together? We regulate the market to help alleviate the suffering it causes. I don’t see why ‘regulating’ or being more interventionist as regards people’s relationships should be so taboo. After all, making bad relationship decisions is only as natural as buying stuff too cheaply and selling it for too much.

There’s also a cultural issue here: we’re living in a time when for various reasons people want to live alone rather than put up with family, friends and lovers when they’re being difficult. This isn’t just a historical blip (or contingency, to not make any big claims): it’s even a geographical one. People lived with their parents until their late 20s in the 1700s (after which they lived with their new family); most people also live with their parents well into their twenties in Italy, just as a matter of course. I reckon regulating culture would probably make things worse as it’s a messier area than the environment: but it seems to me that the cultural struggles of the Left over the past fifty years have a lot to answer for in equating independence with living alone, and pushing for sexual liberation rather than putting up with who you’re with. If people who want to live in rural isolation are at moral/psychological fault (as you seem to suggest, and I’m drawn to agree with you), could the same accusation not be made of people who want to own/rent their own housing as early as possible?

Encouraging people to stay at home for longer/not insist their kids leave home asap, rent and own in larger groups (of friends or relations), and even just ‘stay together for the kids’ seems to be the missing ingredient here, because while we have plenty of space, we don’t have unlimited space.

On a side note, we might want to consider the role the green belt plays in protecting green spaces within cities. Yes, we should want to live together more, but imagine Moscow without Gorky Park: people, especially children, need a minimum amount of green space where they live. The green belt isn’t just (or perhaps, isn’t primarily) about rural areas.

Written By Hugh on April 27th, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

i don’t know any figures, but isn’t there a large number of houses country-wide that lie uninhabited that should be put into use before wantonly concreting more of this planet? and what about slackening regulations to allow more people to rent out unused rooms and the suchlike to optimise the usage of space?
also, i think that if you’re not already psychotic for wanting to live in the city, then the frenzy of unrelenting noise and light, the omnipresent fumes and litter, and other people’s liquids, gases, and stresses will surely make you that way.
nice hat though.

Written By avm on April 27th, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

AVM: Do you honestly think that we can solve the housing crisis by moving people into derelict houses? And moving people into unused rooms is unlikely to make a dent in the enormous demand for housing. You seem to have missed Reuben’s point about the restriction in the supply of housing turning London into the city of the very wealthy, and thus destroying the wonderful broad mix of classes and people that has never been produced by any of the Home Counties.

I don’t want to go anywhere near your notion that city folk like us are in constant contact with ‘other people’s liquids [and] gases’ (I’ve been to the countryside – smells of actual horse shit a lot of the time, and you guys have bodily functions as well, if I’m not mistaken), but you seem to think that cities are somehow bad for the planet. (You certainly sound like an environmentalist when you talk about ‘wantonly concreting more of this planet’). I’ll have you know that London has the lowest per capita carbon footprint in the UK according to the Department for the Environment. I’ll gladly put up with the noise and litter to live in a vibrant social mix of people, be in easy access of cultural and night life and not have to get in a car and drive five miles if I want a paper.

And yes, it is a nice hat.

Written By Jon on April 27th, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

jon, i see reuben’s point of view and do appreciate that there is a need for housing, and i know full well that my proposals aren’t going to solve the problem, i just thought that maybe other options should be considered too.
as for my comments on city life, nowhere did i claim cities to be bad for the planet; i was merely offering the view from the other side of the fence. i’ll have you know the smell of cow shit in the morning is particularly bracing.

Written By avm on April 27th, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

I love the smell of cow shit in the morning! It smells like… victory!

Written By Salman Shaheen on April 27th, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

Reuben I agree more or less with most of your points, however I don’t think the idea of turning over green-field sites to commercial mass housing developers is a good idea. large scale of housing developments need proper planning – which will not be done satisfactorily by a speculative developer as they are interested simply in selling units, and not how the relationship of those units and neighbourhoods will work. if new housing is to be built in mass we need to take into account the workings of the local economies of the resulting tissue, the provision of infrastructure, particularly public transport, as well as the quality of the buildings.

secondly london is already a sprawling place with little density..rather than extending on endlessly, it makes more sense to increase the density within the existing city limits, and actually this is happening already with new housing being built onto currently disused areas like stratford, lewisham, the docklands etc

Written By Paddy on April 27th, 2010 @ 11:06 pm

Seriously, thank you so much for your responses. You all make thought provoking points.

Hugh – I agree with you that liberation is not the same as maximising one’s personal autonomy at any one time. The thing is that living with one’s parents isnt just about sharing space. It involves living within a particular familial relationship which people may understandably want out of. The point is that unlike in the 17thy century we do have the material capacity to offer people the choice. We do not have the spacial capacity to offer any but a small proportion the opportunity to live amongst fields or in sparsely populated communities.

AVM: “i don’t know any figures, but isn’t there a large number of houses country-wide that lie uninhabited that should be put into use before wantonly concreting more of this planet”

You make a good point. Though not having the figures myself it is hard to say whether such uninhabited homes would be sufficient.

“i think that if you’re not already psychotic for wanting to live in the city, then the frenzy of unrelenting noise and light, the omnipresent fumes and litter, and other people’s liquids, gases, and stresses will surely make you that way.”

Arguably this comment does shine a light on some of the misanthropy that characterises the desire to live in the countryside. The company of lots and lots of people more than outweighs being occassionally exposed to their liquids and gasses.

Written By Reuben on April 28th, 2010 @ 2:59 am

I think it’s certainly the case that in the North of England there is masses of unused housing stock. I think I’d make creating jobs (good jobs) in the North a priority so that there isn’t a constant drain towards the South, before building more housing around London. Of course, the trend is in the opposite direction. Around where I grew up masses of perfectly good victorian housing is being demolished rather than refurbished.

Written By Dan on April 28th, 2010 @ 11:07 am

Dan you do indeed make a good point. Our lopsided alot of people keep coming back from Berlin and telling me it is great, and I think part of the reason for that is that the financial capital is Frankfurt. Certainly our lopsided economy is a huge contributing factor.

Written By Reuben on April 28th, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

balls to that, everyone knows that the cool, hip, liberal side of berlin is a mirage.. under the surface its all about big business and politics

Written By PADDY on April 28th, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

Reuben – my point was that we need to encourage those familial relationships and encourage people not to want out of them, for some of the same reasons you would want to encourage people not to want out of the city (although I happen to think strong families are prima facie more important than cheap housing anyway). If it is “understandable” that people should want to waste material and social capital by living on their own in order to acheive more ‘autonomy’, emulate characters from Friends, or whatever, then I think we should consider it “understandable” that some people might want to live with more green space and fewer people around them. I suggest that we understand their reasons, and then put in place policies (e.g. building on green builts, tax breaks for stable families or whatever) to discourage them from being persuaded by those reasons.

Written By Hugh on April 28th, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

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