One solution to the housing shortage – build on Hampstead Heath

15 January 2014

11:03 AM

15 January 2014

11:03 AM

If I was going to measure possible reasons to desert the Tories at the next election, and I can think of a couple, plans to concrete over the countryside would score pretty highly. As a theoretical idea about something happening miles away from my home it almost makes me want to write letters to the Telegraph; if it were in my backyard I’d be shaking my fist at passing traffic or whatever people in the countryside do when they’re angry.

This is moderately dangerous to the party, because what’s different now to, say, five years ago is that disaffected shire Tories have a plausible alternative to turn to, one that isn’t just opportunistically opposing plans (and therefore likely to change) but which is campaigning against the primary cause of de-greening. After all, some 60 per cent of our future house building needs is due to immigration and if you factor in recent immigration that rises to about 90 per cent. Voting Ukip is therefore a clear and effective message.

Even taking aside the I-word though, we don’t have to touch the green belt or loosen planning to build more homes. It just depends on whether you want a libertarian or authoritarian planning system.

The downside with libertarian planning systems, like one our libertarian government would like, is that they tend to produce quite ugly cities. Compare America’s jumbled inner cities and often soulless suburbs and exurbs with continental Europe’s beautiful and compact urban areas; compact cities not only have environmental benefits but civic benefits, too, that sense of boundedness being thought by sociologists to add to social capital; for the English it provides that ‘village feel’ the English love (but without the poverty and incest of actual village life), and which ribbon developments tend to mar.


Obviously America’s cityscape is a product not just of modernity and cars but of liberty and democracy too, and Europe’s beauty a product of despotism. Liberal England began to sprawl in the 20th century, checked by post-war planning regulations, although this came at a time when we were building on the cheap and the architecture business was going through a period of collective insanity.

But the south-east of England is still full of towns with low-density centres, and some of these, it has to be said, aren’t the prettiest. In some cases development is expanding outside the town while the town centre is left under-populated, because no one wants to live there. So what England really needs is not so much a Nick Bowles as a Baron Haussmann who could build beautiful, high-capacity town centres and so spare the countryside.

That’s rather against our traditions, since these sorts of schemes have tended to rely on overbearing, even arbitrary power such as they had in France; the English, with their long tradition of the nuclear family, have also prized the ideal of the house with its garden rather than the shared apartment block. But those were products of a society with space to afford such luxuries; and so high are our housing costs now that the nuclear family is becoming a luxury itself.

There is another solution. There seems to be a strong correlation between people who wish to ease planning laws and those who are in favour of the free movement of labour, both groups being concentrated in London where almost all pro-migration sentiment is located. That being the case, as Rod Liddle suggested in his Sunday Times column (£), why not build in London instead?

Rod suggested Clapham Clapham; Hampstead Heath, which covers 790 acres, could also probably fit in 20,000 or so more people.  As I live near the Heath I know that suggesting this would make me something of a Paul Robinson figure when he tried to turn Ramsey St into a supermarket, but it makes more sense to build near where the jobs are rather than forcing people into more gruelling commutes.

Sure it would ruin people’s quality of life, make their environment less beautiful, and destroy their sense of neighbourhood, but it would also boost the economy, at least in the short term. And if the people of Hampstead or Highgate or Clapham didn’t like these proposals, well they could always move somewhere else, or vote for a party that would stop it.

That won’t happen, of course, because the people of Hampstead and Highgate have power, and those in rural England don’t. And that’s what it comes down to in the end.

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Show comments
  • Kennon Gilson

    This article shows serious anti-libertarian bigotry and ignorance. How the author concludes that model Libertarian eco-communities are a problem is a mystery.
    Please start to get informed at

  • flower78

    After all, some 60 per cent of our future house building needs is due to
    immigration and if you factor in recent immigration that rises to about 90 per
    cent. – But, just think about it, immigration is a
    good thing because foreigners will do the jobs that we don’t really want to do.
    The key is that the supply
    of jobs increases with immigration. This is because many immigrants hold
    college degrees and create opportunities wherever they decide to live. And
    these opportunities not only employ themselves, but can create jobs for others
    as well.

    • Telfennol

      “Immigration is a good thing because foreigners will do the jobs that we don’t really want to do” – true to an extent, but crops didn’t rot in the fields nor patients go untended before 1997.
      What immigration has done is establish a vicious circle. Immigrants willing to work cheap have depressed wages below a level that Brits will accept or indeed can live on without being sixteen to a house and hotbedding. Thus the jobs are not taken by Brits, the “lazy” sterotype is perpetuated and more immigrants are deemed to be required.

      “The key is that the supply of jobs increases with immigration” – again, true to an extent. “Lump of labour” is at least partially a fallacy, for the reasons you describe. But do immigrants with college degrees generate as many graduate jobs as they fill? Not to mention that while the supply of jobs may increase somewhat with immigration, the supply of housing certainly does not.

  • Reallyindependent

    The idea of building on Hampstead Heath was suggested before 1871 when it was bought for the public and any development is now prohibited by the 1871 Hampstead Heath Act. See also

  • Tom

    I was under the impression that part of the need was for housing that is affordable to first time buyers? I doubt that houses built on Hampstead Heath would be within that price range, given the location is, as you correctly point out, close to where the jobs are. Even if one factors in the potential for a drop in house prices due to the lack of nearby open spaces, I highly doubt that they would drop to within the price range of the demographic that new house builds are supposed to be targeted at.

    • RobertC

      The houses would incorporate solar panels and windmills to supplement their income.
      I am sure Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne and Edward Davey could advise.

      And a bio-fuel plant would be a bonus!

  • RavenRandom

    The answer is not to sprawl, but to build up. High rise buildings in cities and large towns, there is no need to sprawl.

  • Raw England

    “After all, some 60 per cent of our future house building needs is due to immigration and if you factor in recent immigration that rises to about 90 per cent. Voting Ukip is therefore a clear and effective message” – Ed West

    These stats alone show that immigration has destroyed us. Literally. 75% of indigenous British people agree that the last 50 years of immigration have been massively damaging to the country.

    WHY have we allowed immigrants to destroy us like this.

  • justejudexultionis

    Why not just concrete over the whole of the south-east of England? The resultant ‘mega-airport’ (of over five hundred runways) would provide a massive boost to the economy.

  • justejudexultionis

    ‘the poverty and incest of actual village life’ —
    You are referring to the Westminster village, I take it?

  • BoiledCabbage

    There is a huge expanse of Essex around East Tilbury that needs something like a town [or an airport]

  • Graeme S

    One solution to the housing problem is to forcibly remove about 3 million illegal immigrants, about 4 million more who are surplus to requirements.

    • ecclescustard

      We could build houses for them overseas!

      • RobertC

        And factories, roads, farms and our laws, then we could then extend our Commonwealth!

        I do believe Canada thought about doing this in South America, so people wouldn’t need to leave their country to take advantage of the political stability of Canada.

    • Raw England

      Minimum. Ideally, the last 50 years of mass immigration must be totally reversed; using all necessary force. Imagine how gorgeous and rich we’d be as a country.

  • Ricky Strong

    But where do we draw the line? The population is growing, people are living longer, and we continue have an open door policy to the EU, and seemingly enough the rest of the world. We can build houses anywhere if really wanted to, green fields, brown fields, nature reserves, anywhere, but we are not tackling the bigger picture.

    At what point will we have that discussion where we talk about the whole food/water/space/resource to human ratio?

    • Mynydd

      The open door policy to the UK is a direct result of Mrs Thatcher signing up to the Single Market and cannot be changed without withdrawing from the EU. There is no open door policy in respect to Non EU countries, unfortunately Mr Cameron has left the door wide open. Now there are more immigrates from Non EU countries than there is from the EU

      • mdj

        ‘There is no open door policy in respect to Non EU countries..;’
        I’m told this, and yet in Leytonstone am surrounded by Turks and Chinese. Somebody, please explain.

  • EricBC

    There is far more room to build over railtracks which feed main London terminals.

    • Alexsandr

      you could build 2 at 23-24 Leinster Gardens, Paddington, London W2 🙂

      • gerontius

        We could “re-develop” Chipping Norton. A shame, but needs must

        • gerontius

          Who voted down my brilliant suggestion?

          • gerontius

            The more I think about it, the better my idea becomes. The Chipping Norton Set would find it very advantageous to have a supply of cheap servants close at hand to serve at those impromptu diner parties that are all the rage and a series of Roma encampments on the edge of town would add a delightful air of vibrancy to an otherwise staid enviroment.

      • Kennybhoy

        You a “Sherlock” fan? 🙂

        • Alexsandr

          go look on google maps satellite view…

          • Kennybhoy

            Yes but the reason I asked about “Sherlock” was that the Leinster Gardens facade featured as a location in the recently broadcast episode…

            • Alexsandr

              sorry. didnt see that.

  • gerontius

    Well said.
    As it happens, I live in what used to be a relatively quiet part of Cambridgeshire, but one that is now being buried under housing, and indeed, I now vote UKIP. Why on earth would I vote for anyone else?

    • William Haworth

      Are you me under another name?? It’s a good job Jim Paice is retiring, he would be out of a job in 2016 in any case.