Friday, June 15, 2007

housing priorities

When the crisis in housing gets discussed, one thing that is often said is that everyone agrees that we need to build lots more affordable housing.

This may be true in the abstract, but it rarely survives any actual proposals.

For example, there are thousands of people in temporary accommodation in Oxford, and many more who find that prices are way beyond what they could possibly afford.

Proposals to expand the city by building on the Green Belt (on a piece of wasteland) have met ferocious resistance from well resourced lobby groups. It is wrong to try to expand the city, people say, when it is possible to build on sites within the city.

So there has been a proposal to investigate whether to build on some allotment sites, maybe, in 2016 or afterwards. Building on allotment sites is not ideal, but the council owns the land, so it is more feasible than some options. And it is only a proposal to investigate, and not for ten years, so people have plenty of time to find alternative sites for allotments.

And the response? Mark Lynas, secretary of the Upper Wolvercote Allotment Association and long term campaigner for leftie causes such as human rights and environmental sustainability:

"These new housing plans spell disaster for what little green space is still left in Oxford.

"We will fight tooth and nail to stop our allotments in Wolvercote being concreted over, but we will also work with other communities to make sure no-one else has to lose out as a result."

When even active lefties speak about new housing plans exclusively in terms of areas being 'concreted over' and fighting tooth and nail to make sure no-one has to lose out (as if no one gains from new housing, or that their needs might be worth considering), it's fair to say that the consensus about the need for new housing is more myth than reality.

It's always possible to find reasons to oppose any particular housing development - we mustn't build on the Green Belt, it is better inside the city; and then, if you try and build in the city we shall fight it tooth and nail. At the very least, fair reporting should involve equal prominence being given to the people who would benefit from new housing, as well as the people who would lose out. It's about priorities and choices. For me, local allotments are important, more important than scrubland which happens to be located in the Green Belt, but less important than building affordable homes for people in housing need. I can understand other people valueing allotments more highly. But we'll never get anywhere near tackling the housing shortage if we only hear from the people for whom new housing is a threat, rather than the fulfilment of what should be a basic right.


At 11:10 pm , Anonymous TIm said...

Personally I think allotments are as valuable as employment sites, but then I'd cheerfully build three wards worth of housing in the green belt.

At 12:09 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

dan that last line of your blog is brilliant

start being a journo mate


At 11:25 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well quite, Dan. Lynas, who I believe is a Green Party activist, is pretty typical - they claim, as you say, to be supportive of more housing in the abstract; they blame its absence exclusively on the government - usually pointing out that councils can't really build any more, which is a red herring because housing associations, whether or not you're a fan, do build housing which is affordable - and then oppose any individual project going.

The thing I'd add is that this also goes to highlight a problem of political organisation - clearly defined groups (such as those adjacent to a proposed development) with significant interests are far easier to organise than diffuse groups (such as those in housing need). The same point applies for so many groups - easier to organise an association of road hauliers than everyone threatened by pollution from lorries; easier to organise a representative group for the pharmaceutical companies than a patients' association, and so on. A bit can be done to address this by helping the latter make their voices heard, but really the only solution is action by politicians, national and local.



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