No doubt many of you will have shared my frustration over the years in watching the decline of the erstwhile broadsheet and former refuge of good quality print journalism, the Daily Telegraph. Its transformation from quality, comparatively balanced reporting to a broadsheet version of the Daily Mail is nothing new, and its latest serialised diatribe; the “Hands Off Our Land” campaign against planning reforms, is one of many of its increasingly self-righteous crusades, albeit by far the least well written or researched.
A bold extract displayed on the front page a few days ago proclaimed the following;
“The reason [developers] are not building enough houses is that the market has collapsed… It has nothing to do with the planning system.”
Two things are woefully wrong with this quote. Firstly, upon reading the article, we discover that the impartial and unbiased source the Telegraph has chosen for this analysis is none other than the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). Second is the fact that this makes no economic sense. A shortage of anything, in the absence of some kind of market distortion or government intervention, will lead to an increase in its price, and hence an expansion of supply. If the ‘market has collapsed’; a tenuous statement at best, alluding presumably to a fall in prices as a function of demand, then by very definition there are ‘enough’ houses being built.
While my main point here is about bad quality journalism, the Telegraph might really want to have a long hard think about this crusade. In excess of 1.8 million people are on housing waiting lists right now, housing affordability has dropped by 9% since the 1980s, and housing supply has simply not kept pace with demand in a nation with a growing population and far more people than ever living alone, separating, and living longer, all while demanding larger houses than their parents as a function of economic growth. All the while the vast majority of UK land remains green and unused, and our planning system remains archaic.
I do hope the Telegraph tones down its rhetoric on this soon, lest it be condemned to join the ever growing pile of obstinately change-averse institutions in this country, grinding in the gears of 21st century progress and reform.
Owen Williams – Editor