8 thoughts on “Don’t count on brownfield: it won’t solve the housing crisis alone”

  1. Posted 13/06/2014 at 06:56 | Permalink

    Housing or houses, Kristian?

    We have unusually low population densities in our towns and cities by European standards because we enforce low rise developments (and your numbers assume more low rise developments). In most European countries there is much more ‘medium rise’ housing – it benefits us by using existing infrastructure, reducing car use and accessibility of local amenities, etc.. Not only should we be building on brownfield sites we should encourage redevelopment of existing low density, low quality, housing, into higher quality higher density housing, perhaps by such incentive measures as a land value tax forming a part of local taxation.

  2. Posted 13/06/2014 at 09:33 | Permalink

    There are several problems with increasing urban population densities by developing brownfield sites. In many instances decontamination costs are so high that very large subsidies are required (e.g. the Olympic site, North Greenwich, Ebbsfleet etc.).

    Also, there are substantial and ongoing ‘diseconomies of agglomeration’ such as congestion, greater exposure to crime/anti-social behaviour, the requirement for collective services (e.g. in blocks of flats compared with standalone houses) and large subsidies for public transport.

    Rather than imposing locational decisions from above, why not leave locational decisions to landowners, developers and homebuyers, so that the outcomes reflect individual preferences?

  3. Posted 13/06/2014 at 09:43 | Permalink

    Richard Wellings’s assertion that higher population densities in urban areas cause greater congestion, greater crime and anti-social behaviour and greater need for public transport can’t be justified by any reference to evidence. We also know that collective services are cheaper per person to provide where the population density is higher. The opposite of what he says is true.

    Nobody is talking about ‘imposing decisions from above’. That’s what we have at present and it has produced low density sprawl and poor housing. Other countries have fewer regulations, and, guess what, higher densities and better housing.

  4. Posted 13/06/2014 at 11:02 | Permalink

    @HJ In an unhampered market economy urban size and density reflect trade-offs between the economies and diseconomies of agglomeration. Government ‘compact city’ policies tend to ignore the latter, leading to inefficient outcomes.

  5. Posted 13/06/2014 at 11:13 | Permalink

    @Richard Wellings. You are missing the point. You made a series of negative assertions about higher density housing that cannot be supported by any reference to evidence. We have perhaps the most restrictive planning laws in Europe – and they explicitly encourage low rise, low density, housing – not ‘compact cities. Other countries that don’t have such restrictive regulations have higher densities.

    As for decontamination costs of brownfield sites – this is a quite separate issue, unless you are arguing that historically contaminated land should never be decontaminated.

  6. Posted 13/06/2014 at 12:43 | Permalink

    @HJ – Draconian spatial planning policies have also been imposed in other European countries, imposing high-density housing on the population. And in the UK, a key rationale for the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act was to prevent 1930s-style ‘urban sprawl’ (i.e. families choosing to live in bigger houses with bigger gardens, well away from the slums). Since the early 1990s ‘compact cities’ have indeed been government policy, with even detached houses packed in very tightly, but with a major emphasis on small flats located along public transport corridors, often with restricted car parking.

    Moreover, there is a wealth of evidence on the diseconomies of agglomeration. See, for example, our 2004 monograph on road pricing which showed that c. 30% of UK traffic congestion costs are in London. Also look at the pattern of violent street crime, heavily concentrated in a small number of high-density London boroughs.

  7. Posted 13/06/2014 at 12:57 | Permalink

    @Richard Wellings – Your historical assertions are not very convincing in view of the deliberate low density housing in new towns such as Milton Keynes. Planning authorities stop developers building upwards and try to limit the number of dwellings in new developments and developers try to increase the number buy making them smaller but still low rise. London has low density housing compared to other large European cities – if your argument was correct, it would enjoy less congestion and lower crime as a result. It dies not. Low density means more car use and more congestion because people need to drive to get to local facilities because they are more spread out – most car journeys are less than 5km.

  8. Posted 16/06/2014 at 02:17 | Permalink

    @Richard Wellings.

    If the economies of agglomeration didn’t outweigh the disadvantages, land wouldn’t have any value.

    As it is, land values are highest where population is the highest and most dense.

    The reason being, every time a city doubles in size, its GDP per capita increases by 15%. As does the level of amenities enjoyed.

    The problems start when this collective value is privatised by landowners. No work, effort or enterprise required on their part. See Ricardo’s Law of Rent.

    As explained here, in the BBC documentary on maths, The Code. Skip to 50.15


    Which is why, if you build homes where demand is highest, prices rise, not fall

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