Bad ideas unlimited
There has been lots of coverage of Policy Exchange's 'Cities Unlimited' report, which in my opinion has given a rather misleading impression of it. Those who haven't read it unfairly caricature it as being about the ridiculous idea that everyone who lives in Northern England should move to London, Oxford or Cambridge.
I have read the report, and it is far, far worse than that summary would suggest. Almost every page contains a different example of staggering and at times awe-inspiring wrongness. Here are just five examples:
Reducing inequality through cough, cough, mumble, mumble
The report analyses the current situation with regard to regeneration as follows:
1. Regeneration spending over the past ten years has 'raised the standards of living compared with what they would have been without them'. Furthermore, the consequence of cutting this spending will be that 'towns that are already slipping gradually further behind the UK average will not simply continue to slip behind at their current rate, but will start to slip behind more rapidly,' as happened in the mid 1990s.
3. Therefore, it is necessary to try a completely different approach.
Worth noting that this is the same technique found in reports by the Taxpayers' Alliance, and that it bears a striking resemblance to the Conservative Party's anti-poverty policies. In all cases, there is a giant leap of logic from 'Labour has spent money which has reduced, but not solved, a problem...cough, cough, mumble, mumble...therefore we shouldn't spend any more money on trying to solve it but should do something different instead'.
Axe the council tax (but only for nimbies)
Moving on, they confront the problem that local people in southern England might be opposed to new houses being built near them. Their solution is to 'stuff their mouths with gold'. Prosperous towns in Southern England would find that the land they owned becoming more valuable if houses were built on it. So the reports' authors propose that councils in these areas should be able to pass this profit on to the community, and use the profits from increasing land value to cut or abolish council tax. And council tax payers living in areas where land value is not so high? Unlucky for them.
But where to build all these houses in London? One example that the report's authors give is that the Post Office could sell all of its sorting offices in London and develop them for housing. The report goes on, 'Mail would then be collected in London, taken to (say) Leicester by train, sorted in Leicester, and returned to London on the first train the following morning for onward delivery.'
To ensure some balance in migration to London, '1 in 5 net new houses in growing areas needs to be reserved for social housing tenants from areas whose populations are not increasing.' So, one example they give is that social housing built in Bromley could be reserved to help people from Blackpool move there.
To be fair, this is an idea which would have incredibly entertaining consequences and might be worth giving a go for that reason, even if it would be a total and utter disaster. There is significant resentment about social housing allocations at the moment, even without ring fencing council houses for people who live at least 200 miles away.
Knocking houses together
But I think the most off the wall idea is their alternative to demolish and redeveloping housing in areas where the population is declining. Their idea is that instead the government would buy up houses and sell them at below market rate to the neighbours (with the government keeping a share of the value of the new, larger property). Over time, the neighbours would then make the alterations to merge the two houses into one. A condition of the sale would be that the new owners would not be allowed to sell or let out their new property.
I'd stress that this is not a comprehensive guide to the bad ideas in the report, but merely a representative sample. Any particularly bad ones that I've missed, do highlight in the comments.
UPDATE: More and better analysis from Mrs Blogs in the comments and over here.