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As House Prices Soar, UK Weighs New Cities


By  Ilona Billington  CONNECT
As London’s housing crisis deepens, the U.K.’s coalition government is looking to a solution first embraced in the early decades of the last century: the self-contained Garden City.

The U.K.’s first garden cities–Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City–were established in Hertfordshire, 34 and 20 miles north of London, in 1903 and 1920 respectively. They were intended to provide an alternative to overcrowded city living, while preserving the green space around the metropolis.

After World War II more new cities were built, more distant from the capital, but from the 1980s on, successive British governments decided that the provision of housing was best left to the market, and new towns fell out of favor.

But the U.K. now faces a shortage of as many as 1 million homes, and soaring house prices have begun to worry regulators, although the Bank of England insists that mortgage lending standards remain sound, and therefore not a threat to financial stability.

Against that background, the government has abandoned the consensus of recent decades. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and communities minister Eric Pickles Monday published a garden cities prospectus to help communities and regions propose new developments of over 15,000 homes, and the necessary space and infrastructure required to support a new community.

“Garden Cities are communities where future generations will live, work, have children, grow up and grow old,” Mr. Clegg said. “Today I’m publishing a new garden cities prospectus, which calls for local areas to submit their plans for garden cities that will provide affordable homes, good schools, and jobs for the next generation, whilst at the same time preserving the countryside.”

If the government can encourage enough regions to take on the size of project required to build a new town or city, then the upward pressure on house prices may ease. Online estate agency Rightmove Monday said the average asking price on its website rose to a fresh record high of 262,594 pounds ($438,978) in April, citing a shortage of property for sale at a time when mortgage availability is recovering.

However, it’s far from certain that the government’s initiative will lead to a new wave of Garden Cities. The government is leaving it up to local communities to decide whether they want new towns. But while many Britons will happily spend hours discussing the dysfunctional state of the U.K.’s housing market, the country suffers from a severe case of Not-In-My-Back-Yard, or NIMBYism. Most home owners agree the country needs to build new homes, but few are prepared to see them built near their own.

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