Sunday, 5 June 2011

It's bedrooms that count

As an amateur architectural historian one of the most fascinating aspects of our evolution has been the way we have slept in England over the centuries. From everyone curled up on the floor of the Hall, to the Solar, a tiny separate room for the Lord and his family, to the early modern adoption of two separate rooms for parents and for offspring (with servants on the floor), to the hugger-mugger jammed in 18th century of strangers sharing beds, to the Victorians' exact hierarchy of spaces and sharing our social progress has been mirrored by our sleeping arrangements. In the last century scientific socialism, in the Parker-Morris report, tabled out the State's allocation of sleeping space to the people; one person needed a dwelling of 33m2 with one bedroom, two persons needed a slightly larger dwelling with one bedroom. And so on. It was a space rationing system that would have been familiar to those in the Soviet gulags, and completely alien to the notion of private ownership and choice. 

However, fools such as Andrew Rawnsley and George Monbiot who still believe it's the business of the State to regulate how many bedrooms each of us has are still spawning the fatuous rubbish in our newspaper columns. Rawnsley in today's Observer calls for more housebuilding to get the young onto the property ladder, and offers the following asinine comment;
In just one year, 1953, Harold Macmillan presided over the construction of 300,000 new homes. He understood that a property-owning democracy could not be realised unless there were enough properties.
And there was me thinking he was just urgently replacing the housing stock destroyed by German bombing.

Monbiot honestly can't understand why, between 2003 and 2008, there was a 45% increase in the number of under-occupied houses; 37% of dwellings, nearly all owner-occupied, are now officially classed as under-occupied. Monbiot agonises;
Why is this happening? I've spent the past few days wading through official figures to try to find out. None of the most obvious explanations appear to fit.
Well George, try this. Over this period the government, planners and housebuilders delivered dense developments with large numbers of studios and one-bedroom flats because that's what the demographics suggested the rationing-system should produce. Then they insisted that a third of them be occupied by bad neighbours - as social housing. Young homebuyers aren't stupid. They realised that such properties were a poor investment, losing value immediately on purchase, and hard to resell when the lifts were full of social housing piss and the stairwells full of social housing crack-foil. So they shunned them. They were bought instead by first-time buy-to-letters cashing in on high rents and easy Housing Benefit. Many of these developments therefore became instant slums, and discouraged even more young buyers from investing in them. What they bought instead were two and three bedroom homes, many older, away from social housing, and that were decent investments. In many areas the price of an older two-bed property was equivalent to that of a new studio - a no-brainer, one would have thought. The surge in under-occupancy, in other words, was a direct result of attempts to distort the housing market through planning controls and land rationing and of social engineering experiments. 

To 'correct' this, Monbiot wants more social engineering in the form of taxing those with empty bedrooms and Rawnsley simply imagines we're still not building enough studios and one-bedroom flats. Silly targets such as those adopted by Boris that are based on the number of dwellings rather than the number of bedrooms also encourage the distortion of the market and the creation of new ghettoes. It's bedrooms that count. 


Barnacle Bill said...

We do need more houses in this country but we need houses that become homes for those that buy them.
The one bedroomed or "studio" is incompatible with this goal.

We also need to take this social housing requirement out of private developments. A friend of mine has cancelled a site he was going to develop because of the number of houses he was required to "give away".
Instead he turned it into a bit of an eyesore car park and he doesn't have to provide "social" free parking!

QPQ said...

I wonder what Monbiot and Rawnsley live in (and where). This stuff is no doubt along the lines of the Toynbee dictum of " don`t do as I do, do as I say ".

Anonymous said...

Demetrius said...

About 20 years ago I calculated about 3,000 spare bedrooms in a town of 30,000. With ageing I suspect the figure is now higher. In my present town I see developments with properties unsold or not rented. Around the country are umpteen "second homes" or "holiday homes" that are in effect investment items. How often do I see a "holiday home" apparently fully booked at the most unlikely times? There is one huge amount of empty property around.

Bessie said...

I've just been checking the official London Housing Design Guide, following up links from the Parker--Morris report. It turns out that my house is significantly over-occupied! Such are the joys of not being eligible for luxurious social housing.

Anonymous said...

What is needed is fewer planning restrictions and less manipulation of monetary policy. The market in housing doesn't need anyone trying to figure out how many houses of a particular kind need to be built. The market does this.

Anonymous said...

Don't these Mindbot people have nothing better to think on except try to force people to live in houses based on some formulaic creed? What about the under-occupancy of the space between the ears?

Gordo said...

Neither Rawnsley nor Moonbat mention the elephant in the living room.

Ed P said...

Effectively I'm already taxed for having an empty bedroom - my council tax is only reduced by 25% as a single occupier, when fairly it should be by 50%

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Anon 15:01 has it right.

The problem is the planning system (read - the artificial limitation and restriction system).

I live in in a country that has both endless miles of empty space and a housing shortage. Only state meddling can produce such a situation.

Stop the meddling and people will soon deliver a solution.

The state's answer? More meddling. Sigh.

James Higham said...

Then they insisted that a third of them be occupied by bad neighbours - as social housing. Young homebuyers aren't stupid. They realised that such properties were a poor investment, losing value immediately on purchase, and hard to resell

Social engineering anyone?

Elby the Beserk said...

That would be the same George Monbiot who is the sole occupant of his four bedroom Welsh farmhouse, yes?

I gather his wife and kids left him. You would, wouldn't you?

Whistle said...

It's all down to supply and demand,but,they keep upping the demand side by letting in thousands of unwanted immigrants.This problem will never be resolved as long as this continues and we stay in the EU.Must get out of it NOW.

Woodsy42 said...

Round here there were loads of emminently reconditionable terraced houses. Most were innexpensive, 2 bedroomed, reasonably private, cheap to run, had small gardens with room for a shed (bike storage etc) and were ideal for a young couple getting into the propery market(we started in one) or for a one child family.
Most have been knocked down and replaced, the replacements are mostly semis or detached with 3 bedrooms, so today's young couple instantly have to pay more and get an underutilised and less cost-efficient house.