Planning Is Destroying Britain

The Economist reviews housing prices in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and what do you know, it finds that high housing prices are due to urban planning. “The biggest constraint on development in London is the Green Belt,” says the magazine that calls itself a newspaper. “Tt runs (with perforations) all around London, to a depth of up to 50 miles, and bans almost all building on half a million hectares of land around the city.”

Ah, but Britain has 62 million people in an area slightly smaller than the state of Oregon (94,000 vs. 98,000 square miles), so those greenbelts are needed to preserve farms, forests, and open space, right? Not really.

As a BBC writer points out, urban areas cover just 6.8 percent of the United Kingdom (10.6 percent of England, 1.3 percent of Scotland, 3.6 percent of Northern Ireland, and 4.1 percent of Wales). Moreover, much of the land inside those urban areas is open space, so less than 2.3 percent of England, and even smaller proportions of the rest of the kingdom, have been “paved over.”

If Britain had been allowed to grow unimpeded by greenbelts and planners, urban areas might have spread out to, perhaps, 15 or 20 percent of the country (more of England, less of the other countries), and probably would have included a higher percentage of green spaces within them. This hardly sounds like a disaster and is far from “paving over the nation.”

One of the comments on the BBC article pointed out that Britain is denser than China, which the commenter through proved that Britain needed all those planning rules, when all it really proved is that China needs them even less. Connecticut is denser than Britain, and its urban densities are much less than the U.S. average, yet it has many lovely rural areas covering (depending how you define rural) 60 to 70 percent of the state.

What American planners call smart growth (and what conservative critics call Agenda 21) was actually invented in Britain. Planners there call it town & country planning, after the Town & Country Planning Act of 1947, which in turn was named after a 1932 book, Town and Countryside, by English urban planner Thomas Sharp. Sharp opposed suburbs that attempted to provide the best of urban and rural and urged that cities create greenbelts and growth boundaries, inside of which would be built “great new blocks of flats which will house a considerable portion of the population of the future town.”

The latest mantra is that dense cities are more sustainable. Four British urban analysts reviewed this idea in no less than the Journal of the American Planning Association. “The current planning policy strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption,” they found. Instead of being sustainable, these policies “generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.” Moreover, “the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”

As these analysts hint, people who support Britain’s land-use policies are largely unaware of (or don’t care about) the huge social impacts of their programs: inferior housing, limited social mobility, and a business-hostile environment. Meanwhile, the benefits they claim for their policies are almost purely fantasy. Britain, as well as the American states that have followed that country’s lead (not to mention those in other countries), should abandon these policies as rapidly as possible.

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33 thoughts on “Planning Is Destroying Britain

  1. metrosucks

    Thanks to Randal and others like him, we already know (or suspected) much of this, though it bears repeating. However, cue those ideologically blind shills like Dan who will defend any & all planning conventions, attack any call to fewer restrictions on embattled property owners, and foment for even more tyrannical laws to steal away what we have left of “our” property rights.

  2. JimKarlock

    Tired of ecotards saying we are running out of land, or the Earth is overpopulated?
    Me too, so I did something beyond the skill set of planners and other ecotards – I looked at data and applied a little arithmetic.

    The entire USA population, on 1/4 acre lots, would fit in less than ½ the land area of Oregon!

    The entire world population, on 1/4 acre lots, would fit in about 15% the land area of the USA!

    Another eco fraud debunked by facts!

    See: http://www.debunkingportland.com/urban%20sprawl.html

    Thanks
    JK

    Frank Reply:

    Ok. Interesting stat. However, does anyone have data on what percent of existing urban land is buildable (not in a natural hazard zone, wetland, etc.)?

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Moreover, much of the land inside those urban areas is open space, so less than 2.3 percent of England, and even smaller proportions of the rest of the kingdom, have been “paved over.”

    One of the sales pitches used to promote Smart Growth (and oppose all highway improvements and expansions) is the claim that we have “paved over too much of” [insert geographic area here] and there must be not even one more square centimeter of asphalt or concrete poured – ever again.

    The amount of area actually “paved over” land is generally not stated.

  4. Dan

    Same old warmed-over canard. But not too warm, as it is summer and we like our canards refreshing, rather than piping hot.

    Ah, well. I trust the people that actually live there will make decisions based on facts and not canards. It is, after all, their land.

    Far better, IMHO, is to rail against Britain’s Green Plan. They are going to clad all their residential building envelopes. All of them. To gain efficiency and reduce carbon fuels. Clad. All of their homes. Changing radically the built environment, just to forestall man-made climate change. Surely there is more outrage in the Green Plan – taking away pollution profits – than in paving over some cherished greenspace.

    DS

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    Dan, ever been to the United Kingdom? I have.

    Unfortunately, only England (so far), always arriving by air.

    If it’s a reasonably clear day (and it sometimes is), it is impressive how green the London metropolitan area is – now – and has been for many years). That includes areas near Greater London that might be considered “suburban sprawl” by the Smart Growth industry. Consider counties like Surrey, located along the M25 orbital motorway (as they say in the UK – here in Maryland we would call M25 a “Beltway”).

    In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books, Harry’s foster family, the Dursleys, live on Privet Drive in Little Whinging, a fictional suburban town in Surrey (and I wonder if Rowling was influenced by the Smart Growth types, since she portrays the Dursely family as being pretty obnoxious). Privet Drive is fictional, but the “houses” on the street were built at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, and can be seen here in Google Maps.

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    More on the fictional 4 Privet Drive can be found here on the Harry Potter Wiki site.

    Dan Reply:

    I’ve been to the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and several others. I agree that GBR is very green, much more so than Italy in summer-fall.

    I also agree that the Green Belts are much beloved and very popular, and that paving them over would make the vast majority sad.

    DS

    FrancisKing Reply:

    “Ah, well. I trust the people that actually live there will make decisions based on facts and not canards. It is, after all, their land.”

    Ta.

    Dan Reply:

    Ta.

    One can hope, yes?

    DS

  5. bennett

    The jump from “London,” to “Britain,” it today’s post is intriguing. I see it akin to saying: “Planning is destroying America. You can tell by the high property values in NYC.”

    Also… “pointed out that Britain is denser than China.” Seeing how density is usually a per sq mile calculation, China has a hell of a lot of miles (Britain not so much), it seems to make sense. Actually it’s painfully obvious. On a national scale, density has a lot to do with geography. When it comes to government impacts on density at the national scale immigration, war, poverty, democracy (or lack thereof) seem to be bigger indicators of density changes than land-use planning.

    Notice that India, South Korea and Bangladesh are the only geographically larger countries toward the top of the list (link below). Most of the top “dense” nations in the world are itty bitty.

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934666.html

    bennett Reply:

    It’s also important to point out that this list shows little correlation to density and quality of life (other than the relation to climate: See Canada, Greenland, Russia). Some of the most dense countries in the world include places like Monaco and the Gaza Strip. Some of the least dense countries include Australia and Libya.

    Maybe all the excitement over density is overblown?

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    Density is an intergral part of the “anti-auto vanguard’s” effort to coerce people out of their cars and onto transit.

    Never mind that residential densities don’t ride transit.

    I may have mentioned it before, but anti-auto vanguard is a phrase coined by Professor James Dunn, Jr. of Rutgers in his still timely book, Driving Forces: The Automobile, Its Enemies, and the Politics of Mobility.

    No, I don’t get a commission from Professor Dunn for pitching his work.

    bennett Reply:

    That’s exactly my point! Maybe all the excitement over density is overblown.

    Overblown by the “anti-auto vanguard” and the anti-density vanguard.

  6. FrancisKing

    Antiplanner: “As a BBC writer points out, urban areas cover just 6.8 percent of the United Kingdom (10.6 percent of England, 1.3 percent of Scotland, 3.6 percent of Northern Ireland, and 4.1 percent of Wales). Moreover, much of the land inside those urban areas is open space, so less than 2.3 percent of England, and even smaller proportions of the rest of the kingdom, have been “paved over.”

    Antiplanner should be aware that the 1947 Act was brought in primarily to stop strip development and random rural development, where one urban area merges into another. Not to increase density (John Prescott’s obsession), nor to deter car ownership (which started growing in the 1950s and which has only just stopped growing).

    If Antiplanner thinks the 1947 Act is so bad, he should try Ireland, where houses have popped up all over the rural areas. Nice.

  7. Southeasterner

    I don’t understand the comparison of London and the UK in general. We have cities all around the North of England where you can find rows and rows of empty and affordable housing. What would be the point of opening up the green zones to more development in these locations? Not to mention these green zones are often filled with recreational actives and public footpaths which are heavily used (I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking).

    As far as cities like London I would question why any government jobs should exist there. Given the higher cost of living and higher wages why not move the primary government agencies to the regional cities that need more economic activity and open up more commercial space and housing to the private sector in London? It seems like there are plenty of other options that should be explored before developing the green zone around London.

    Frank Reply:

    “(I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking)”

    “Hiking remains one of the top five most popular outdoor activities, with about 34 percent of Americans participating. During 2005, 76.7 million American hikers went on 844 million total hiking outings, according to OIF…”

    “According to Britan’s most comprehensive survey of sport and recreation participation, 9.1million adults in England, or 22% of the population, walk recreationally for at least 30 minutes in four weeks.”

    And from Wiki: “However people are walking less in the UK, a Department of Transport report found that between 1995/97 and 2005 the average number of walk trips per person fell by 16%, from 292 to 245 per year.”

    While most Americans might not hike, the same is true in the UK. No reason, as Dan states, to make stuff up.

    Dan Reply:

    If one looks at actual comparative facts, it is clear that not only are the greenbelts much loved and would be missed if paved over, it is also true that folks walk much more in the UK. In the Green Belts.

    That is: not making it up.

    DS

    Southeasterner Reply:

    How about we use a consistent study with the same methodology in each country rather than two completely different and arbitrary findings?

    Here is some research from a US University…

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/jpah08.pdf

    Americans walk about 1/3 the amount of Brits.

    Frank Reply:

    As a mode of transport, yes, a higher percentage of Brits walk. Recreational walking, or “hiking”, no, as the statistics I’ve indicated show, but you refuse to accept.

    Dan Reply:

    The context is the usage of green belts, and if greenery deserves to be paved over for housing for a little bit of price relief. One of the implicit assertions is that they are not used, as Brits do less Recreational walking [than Americans, and the answer is] no, as the statistics I’ve indicated show, but you refuse to accept.

    As southeasterner stated, the statistics [Frank] indicated were not consistent. These stats do not show whether or not the Green Belts are used for walking and can be paved over and their beauty lost, but we should at least acknowledge that one of the links that was liked states

    Walking trends

    The popularity of leisure walking appears to be rising. The number of English adults walking recreationally for at least 30 minutes every month increased by 954,700 (around 10%) between 2006 and 2008.

    and

    Based on the findings, 6% of U.S. adults were considered regularly active (? 5 days/week for ? 30 min/day) by walking for transportation and 9% were regularly active by walking for leisure.

    So, consistency shows that Brits do walk more than Yanks for recreation/leisure. Consistency.

    And whether the Green Belts should be paved over, I note here – as in the Bay Area – no one has “remembered” to crunch some numbers for an honest Cost-Benefit Analysis to see what effect paving over greenery would have on prices.

    Gosh, since it is so important to do so, you’d think someone can bust out a white paper with those numbers. I wonder where that paper is? I wonder…I wonnnnnderrrrrrrr..

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    Let’s examine the “context” because you interjected yourself, premature injectulator that you are, into this thread, which had nothing to do with you except your ego apparently.

    Here’s the context: “(I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking)”

    First of all, this was not your comment, so shut the fuck up.

    Second, the comment is ludicrous on its face. Most Americans wouldn’t “understand” the concept of walking/hiking? Bullshit. Pure anti-American drivel. Purely unsubstantiated rant.

    So.

    Now.

    Yes, more UK citizens walk for transportation.

    Anyone is welcomed to provide a study comparing citizens of the UK to Americans in terms of recreational hiking. Until you can provide such a study, certainly you need to shut the fuck up.

    Dan Reply:

    Until you can provide such a study, certainly you need to shut the fuck up.

    psssst…

    Two people in this thread already provided such a study. One person even made an assertion from it that you dismissed, apparently without reading the study you demanded.

    Ah, well. But of course the Green Belts are loved and the majority doesn’t want them paved over. Despite the lack of rigid analysis showing the benefits of lower prices for paving over greenery. Sounds just like the complaints about the Bay Area.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    Again:

    Let’s examine the “context” because you interjected yourself, premature injectulator that you are, into this thread, which had nothing to do with you except your ego apparently.

    Here’s the context: “(I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking)”

    First of all, this was not your comment, so shut the fuck up.

    Second, the comment is ludicrous on its face. Most Americans wouldn’t “understand” the concept of walking/hiking? Bullshit. Pure anti-American drivel. Purely unsubstantiated rant.

    Based on this, I should have to say no more. That you’re defending a bare assertion fallacy shows you to be the troll you are.

    You’re also a cherry picker for ignoring this stat for the one you picked, cherry picker:

    “In the United States, 41.5% of adults walked for leisure and 28.2% walked for transportation in intervals of at least 10 min.”

    Again: Show me a study with direct comparisons between hiking participation in the US vs. UK, which is totally irrelevant to the made up assertion, not by you, interjector, that Most Americans wouldn’t “understand” the concept of walking/hiking.

    Now be gone, troll!

    Dan Reply:

    Again, you demanded direct comparatives. You got direct comparatives.

    No need to make false accusations and scurrilously mischaracterize because you got what you demanded, and it didn’t match your worldview or self-identity.

    But that’s exactly what we expect from certain quarters. Right to the script. Just according to template.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    Bare assertion fallacy: I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking.

    No study exists documenting how many Americans “understand the concept of walking/hiking.” Period.

    That you’re defending such a ludicrous assertion on this thread again shows you to be the troll you are.

    The study “Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia” does not directly compare hiking rates of people in the UK and US. Nowhere. It compares Europeans in general, but does not single out the British for comparison.

    The study even states that “At this time, there are no standardized travel surveys that gather data for the purpose of allowing international comparisons.”

    According to the Sports England telephone survey, 22% of people in England (not the entire UK as national stats do not exist) walk for recreation for 30 minutes in four weeks, while the CDC paper measures leisure walking at 30 minutes a day.

    None of this matters anyway because the original issue was with the statement that Americans don’t understand the concept of walking/hiking. This has nothing to do with ideology, which I have not inserted into this argument. You’re projecting. You don’t even know my ideology; in the case of greenbelts, I live next to one and use it almost daily and support the preservation of green spaces in urban, rural, and wild areas.

    So stop trolling me now.

    Dan Reply:

    Sweet! You are hanging your hat on a hair-splitting, semantic, literal interpretation of I don’t think most Americans would understand the concept of walking/hiking and you accuse me of trolling!

    That. Is. Rrrrrrrich.

    Also, too, you clearly have not read the paper or purposely mislead as to its contents. Its upthread twice, anyone can check if your assertions are based in reality! Why mislead as to its contents?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?

    But golly: what happens if no one has done a direct comparative study with exactly what someone pretends to demand (I mean, how long does it take to study every permutation of reality)?

    Are we unable to examine the premise and throw up our hands and call it a day? What do millllions of humans do in the thousands of times per year when some issue comes up that has no direct comparative study?

    Gosh, does everything just grind to a halt because nothing can be done and everyone sits around scratching their heads until someone does a direct study, or are there methods to compare, in use for centuries??

    chuckle

    Anyhoo:

    The study “Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia” does not directly compare hiking rates of people in the UK and US. Nowhere.

    Ah. You either haven’t bothered to read the paper, or you misrepresent what it compared. Someone upthread has read the paper and shared the comparison you claim doesn’t exist.

    DS

    Frank Reply:

    Yes anyone can read the paper and see that there is not a direct comparison between UK and US hiking rates.

    They can also read the study to find this that “At this time, there are no standardized travel surveys that gather data for the purpose of allowing international comparisons.

    Stop trolling me Dan.

  8. Duncan

    As someone who lives in London and deals with the planning system (usually as an impediment to major engineering projects) I’d have to say that the interpretation of both The Economist article and the English planning system here is rather one-sided.

    High house prices are certainly a problem in London and planning is a part of that. There is a case for some relaxation of the Green Belt (and other measures) but the idea that there should be no planning, let alone that “Planning Is Destroying Britain” is nonsense.

    The core of the problem is that the UK has decided to concentrate virtually all forms of power in one corner of the country, centred on London, while much of the rest of the country underperforms. As with “personal expansion”, the trick is to relieve the pressure rather than loosen your belt.

    Never mind that Green Belts have massive public support in the UK (not always justifiably in my view but we live in a democracy…), the pressure for development in this region of the UK is such that it is unlikely to be sated with any amount of land.

    Protection of the countryside, especially in the more densely-populated South East is hugely-important to the English. Government recently sought to relax planning laws: the perceived threat to the countryside unleased a huge and unprecedented backlash, most particularly amongst the socially conservative/economically liberal classes. The countryside is highly-valued (even if not by economists) and a central part of the national identity.

    England (as opposed to the UK) is a densely-populated country – among developed nations of reasonable size (10x Connecticut) and major population (10s of millions): only South Korea is more so. England has a steadily rising population and both this and density are concentrated around London.

    London’s housing is a problem but the solution is not to abandon planning (The Economist didn’t say that) but more intelligent planning (including a more flexible attitude to the greenbelt) and resultion of the England’s almost uniquely skewed growth pressures.

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