The report Prospects for housing, land and rent in UK cities in the coming 4 decades by Michael Edwards is now out. It was commissioned by the Government Office for Science Foresight programme on the future of UK cities.
For links to downloads, slide shows, a video and some discussion please Continue…
Michael Edwards [gave] a lecture about it at UCL on Wednesday 1 July, a video of which is here – though with the wrong date.
The report Prospects for housing, land and rent in UK cities in the coming 4 decades is a free download PDF at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-cities-land-rent-and-housing-in-uk-cities (short link http://bit.ly/1NvjmV7) or there is an archive copy here: 15-28-land-rent-housing-uk-cities
Slides from the UCL lecture can be downloaded here: Edwards Foresight small
Slides from a much shorter talk I gave at a conference of the National Homebuilders’ Federation are here. They were designed as prompts and illustration for my talk and don’t make complete sense on their own. Edwards Foresight HBF
Later, on 1 October 2015, I was provoked to respond to an article by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, drawing on some of this work of mine. Here is his piece and my response: http://michaeledwards.org.uk/?p=2181
Summary of the Foresight report
The role played by housing—underpinning or undermining achievement—in British cities in the coming decades will vary a lot from city to city. However there is a crisis in UK housing which damages the society and economy as a whole while taking these varying forms.
This paper argues that what appears as a housing crisis in the UK cannot adequately be understood, let alone ended, within the confines of the ‘housing debate’. Housing debates are a patchwork of partial analyses, fragmented among professions and disciplines, typically (especially at election times) focused on short-term tweaks and reforms. The aim is to open a wider debate.
The issues are re-framed here as features of the changing division of national income in Britain (and beyond) in recent years, a division which has seen the proportion going to salaries fall while the shares going to profit and (crucially) rent have risen. Rent, broadly defined to include the capital gains made through ownership, is now a major driving force in the economy, in urban development and in the concentration of wealth and income.
The stock of houses we have is the accumulation of those produced as market commodities and others produced as non-commodity dwellings. Some sections of the society can house themselves adequately or well in the market sector as owners or as renters but many households are unable to do so because of a combination of inadequate income, rising house prices and rents, the tendency of richer households to occupy higher proportions of the total stock and the regional imbalance of supply and demand. The non-commodity housing stock has been reduced in the face of growing needs for it in many cities and the private rented sector becomes the only source of housing both for those who would have preferred social housing and many who had hoped to buy. All tenure categories have been affected by financialisation: increasingly subject to financial considerations and with social and private landlords alike dependent on high levels of housing benefit and other state benefits to underwrite their rental incomes. Lying behind all this is the market in land and property through which the rich get richer and the poor poorer and which — in combination with the planning practices of many richer areas — inhibits the volume and distribution of new housing production, space standards and so on.
The very high rents and housing costs being extracted from workers constitute a great burden on the productive economy — on the production of useful goods and services. It is as though there were two kinds of tax in the society: one paid to the state and local authorities for public services, the other paid as rent to landlords, financial institutions and established owner-occupiers. State subsidies to employers and/or landlords via the social security system have been a poor filler for the gap between low pay and high housing costs.
Within this broad framing, the paper discusses the distinct forms which the crisis takes in various UK cities and their associated countrysides, outlining the wide range of changes to market and non-market housing supply, tax regimes, income and wealth distribution, spatial policies and land policies which might be sought in the coming four decades. It ends by emphasising the challenge all this would pose to fragmented government departments, professions and disciplines.
Please comment / discuss on this page
This comment came in by email and is posted here with permission:
On 13 Aug 2015, at 11:10, Martin Slavin wrote:
“The promotion of ‘spatially blind’ growth policies have inadvertently entrenched costly disadvantage in more vulnerable cities, creating negative lock-in path dependency. Initiatives to de-concentrate large, primate cities and re-balance the national economy have rarely succeeded and are often abandoned. The momentum towards decentralisation has seldom attended fully to dynamics of agglomeration, and can be constrained by cumbersome micro-management and unrealistic demands placed on local authorities.”
Future of Cities report, p 4, 18 September, The Royal Society
This apparatchik-speak quoted above is a typical example of the de-politicising technocratic gobbledegook from the wonky neoliberal economic policy faithful who currently dominate the establishment consensus. The closing comment from your report stands as a necessarily political critique of this familiar administrative fog behind which ‘invisible hands’ are busily plundering the common wealth in their own interests.
“Many of the individual possibilities rehearsed here would, on their own, be alarming—not least for politicians for whom a shift away from long-term house price growth may be difficult to contemplate and to offer to the electorate. The answer must lie in devising a set of changes which, taken together, would rescue us from the dysfunctional and unjust system we have, a huge burden on the society and on the economy. There would be conflicts and struggles but most British residents would have more to gain than to lose from a systematic set of reforms on these lines.”
Prospects for Land, Rent and Housing in Cities, Closing Comment, p45
It seems to me that your finely wrought report should be thought of as another contribution towards building an informed political consensus among activists from all manner of democratising initiatives confronting and resisting the overstuffing of fictitious capital into urban land and property markets.
The problem about what is to be done therefore becomes how most effectively to disseminate, discuss and politically engage with those who will activate the succinct wisdom of your analysis in better informed and constructive resistance to developments from those who seek to mystify and preempt the construction of ‘good cities and better lives’ for a more popular constituency.
Although your paper may be achieve some currency within the Mandarinate who commissioned it, I think its contents will be most efficiently mobilised amongst the growing social movements seeking to formulate a just and coherent housing policy platform. In other words bring together the usual suspects in agoras across the range within which you have already done so much useful work for constructive critical discussion focused on this paper.
In terms of the presentational formats you have listed (in an email M.E. sent about next steps) I rate lectures about such a lengthy report as about as useful as a PR presentation. It’s basically a social flagging event with very low content transmission performance. I much prefer well attended workshops/seminars which are broken into a number of sessions where chosen commentators present critical reviews of different policy areas covered in your report which are then each followed by discussion of those aspects of policy. These workshops might usefully form a brief series held in differing locations each/some of which has some relation to ongoing housing struggles.
Michael Edwards comment 26 August — Thank you very much and yes, some workshops during the autumn seem a good idea and I’ll think of useful discussants. I’ll announce on this site with a new post so anyone who has asked to be notified will get an email. If anyone has suggestions for venues / discussants / etc do comment below or email.