Report out on UK Housing, Land, Rent

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  (short link 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:

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.

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8 Responses to Report out on UK Housing, Land, Rent

  1. Ed Ghosn says:

    Michael, thank you for the very interesting talk yesterday.

    A couple of questions that I had but unfortunately failed to ask were:

    1- There is a lot of focus on, or talks about, providing affordable housing but, from what I understand, very little to really look at what is affordable. Yesterday you mentioned that a £200,000 house is affordable but, as a graduate working in London, I find that rather hard to believe as it would take someone like me ages to save enough money for a deposit especially since, as you mentioned, we are too busy paying rent to be able to have any significant savings. So my question really is how would you define what is “affordable? And How does it vary between one city and another?

    2- A lot of the discussion following the talk focused on providing council housing as a means to fill the need. From my experience, most council estates I have seen are rather run down and don’t effectively provide a pleasant environment to live in. Do you think that the focus should be more around providing affordable, but also enjoyable, housing? And if so how can we make sure that whatever is being provided actually is a place where people want to live and not just a cheap alternative to what’s around it? My concern is that by providing cheap council estates aimed at low and middle income households we are just displacing this category of people but instead of pushing them out of high rental areas all together we are pushing them into small clusters within these areas where they might not necessarily be happier when compared to living outside the city.

    I hope this makes sense and look forward to hopefully getting a response from you.

    • 1) Your question assumes that housing is only “affordable” if people can afford to buy it and that need not be the only option. If you read the report you’ll see that I’m pointing out that we need a strong non-market sector in housing to ensure that everyone has good housing they can afford. If the land problem could be solved then it would be possible to build houses for between £100,000 (construction cost for a 100 m2 home) and £200,000 (which would cover a lot of infrastructure in new areas.

      2) I don’t find your second question so clear. But there has been a lot of brilliant council housing in which people enormously enjoy living. It’s the bad examples which get the publicity. Have a look at the blog of and scan through some of the best examples. And it doesn’t have to be “council” housing: it could be all sorts of other format like, for example

      • Ed Ghosn says:


        Thank you for your reply. I haven’t been in the UK long enough to really judge on the way affordable housing is being provided and I have just recently started looking at the subject in more details to see what else can be done. I really appreciate the links you suggested and lilac in particular seems to offer quite an interesting solution. If you know of any other alternative affordable housing business models I would love to hear about them.

  2. marvitoscana says:
  3. Ian Wray says:

    A great paper Michael.
    Sir Alan Wilson spoke in Manchester about forecasts in which the middle 50% of jobs could disappear, thanks to robots, automation and artificial intelligence. What impact might this have on UK cities and housing markets, as the middle income groups progressively disappear and demand is concentrated in the top 25% – who presumably will become very wealthy? Which cities (if any) would cater for these new ‘elites’?

  4. Thanks Ian. Yes, all that is scary. It’s already important to find ways of distributing income (purchasing power) which ensures everyone gets a share, whether the economy “needs” them or not. Unless something like that happens, we’ll be heading for the bantustan outcome: search for that in the report and follow up by reading Hugh Stretton, 1972.

  5. Thoughtful blogpost by Steve Boxall on how London’s residential towers might be a bursting bubble

  6. Stuart Hodkinson (Leeds) sent this welcome comment as a Twitter direct message: “Congratulations on your housing report. It is stunning and very useful”. I hope he’ll expand on that sometime, somewhere. Meanwhile I’m asked to prepare a 2-page version which ministers might read: tricky because the report is fundamentally a #longreads job

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