We have allowed ad hoc urban sprawl to become the default solution to our housing shortages
Success has a magnetic pull: we all like to be a part of things that are doing well. Nowhere is this truer than London. The capital grew by over a million people in the first decade of this century alone.
But Londonís status as an economic and cultural success story is being threatened by a lack of decent affordable homes.
The recent population growth has not been matched by the required investment in housing. We might have a million more neighbours since 2000, but weíve been building houses at the rate of around 20,000 a year.
The effect is well known by Londoners: house prices more than doubled in the 10 years to 2010, even with the recession, and they are very much on the rise now. Great news for those who already own their own home or for wealthy foreign investors but a nightmare for young people in the capital trying to buy their first home. In 2000, the average house in London cost about five-and-a-half times the average wage ó expensive but just about in touching distance. By 2010, prices were over eight times more than wages. The housing ladder is being pulled up from young people desperately trying to climb onto the bottom rung. We urgently need to build more homes.
Itís not a new problem. At the start of the last century London faced a similar shortage, which led to visionary pioneers like Ebenezer Howard developing Garden Cities in Letchworth and Welwyn. These so-called Garden Cities were led by local pioneers with a vision of planned settlements: well-designed homes integrated with parks and protected green spaces, combining the best of town and country in places people could live and work. They were outside London but designed to relieve housing pressure on the capital and were a far cry from the Victorian slums.
A second wave of Garden Cities ó this time known as New Towns ó were developed in the decades that followed the Second World War. And itís an idea whose time has come again. Today I am launching plans to free a new generation of local visionaries to come up with proposals for Garden Cities for the 21st century. The Coalition Government is publishing plans to help local communities turn their dreams of building a Garden City into a reality.
Thereís lots of help the Government will provide ó whether overcoming logistical or planning barriers; providing funds that local areas can bid for; or helping them to leverage the private-sector investment that will be needed to get these Garden Cities built. What we want in return is for them to put their hand up and come up with innovative ideas about how and where these might be built.
This Government is not going to impose large settlements on local communities. But we know that there are real pressures on housing ó not least around London ó where we need affordable, well-designed homes with proper transport links, services and amenities for todayís aspiring young families. Todayís prospectus is the first step to making them happen.
We have allowed ad hoc urban sprawl to become the default solution to our housing shortages. But that both breeds local resentment and doesnít solve the problem. Such a big challenge requires big ideas, and large-scale developments like Garden Cities must play a big part in our response.