Posted by: aboutalbion | January 23, 2013

New houses … and where to put them

My local newspaper has a feature that discusses the options of the local county town, where there is a felt need for more house building in the area.

The options discussed are (i) expanding the county town boundary by breaching the established green belt around it and building on the expansion, (ii) building on some of the established green (breathing) spaces within the existing county town boundary, and (iii) focussing house building on some of the other towns in the county (apart from the county town).

The first option is opposed by those who wish to preserve the existing green belt (because it contributes to the character of the county town).  The second option is opposed by the residents of the county town who wish to preserve the parks, etc, and which (again) contribute to the character of the county town.  The third option has to address concerns that, while new houses can be built in towns around the county town, new jobs are most likely to be created in the county town.  So the third option is opposed by existing commuters to the county town, who are apprehensive that more commuters will be using the already crowded transport (road and rail) networks.

I wouldn’t like to be a local politician who has to make a decision on this issue.  But I do think that the principle that I picked up on my recent trip abroad (see previous post) might have a contribution to make to the discussion.

The principle is that “private property … is under a ‘social mortgage’”.  One the one hand, private property gives the property owner a degree of independence and security.  On the other hand, the private property owner (as the steward of a social asset) needs to make appropriate ‘social mortgage’ payments.

In my local area of housing stress, the question that I suggest politicians ask is this: “Are all the family sized houses in the relevant areas occupied by families?” or “Is it acceptable that (long term) a family sized house should be occupied by just one (or two) people?”

I do sometimes muse about our understanding of ‘community’, when it seems that road congestion is heightened by family cars driven by just one driver, and housing stress is heightened by family houses occupied by just one (or two) people.

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