It's Not Transport. It's Housing, Stupid

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 56 months ago
It's Not Transport. It's Housing, Stupid


For a while now, we've been muttering this phrase to anyone who'll listen. When it comes to London's biggest issue – to misquote Bill Clinton – it's housing, stupid. This city is in the grip of a huge housing crisis. Rents are shooting up, house prices are beyond the reach of even middle income earners, and we're about 500,000 homes short of the number we need. And yet, for some reason, politicians are fixated on transport.

Just look at the last Mayoral election. Even Ken Livingstone told us that housing was the most important issue, yet the election was fought on transport and tax. Labour are still pushing a campaign to bring down fares. It's true, fares have gone up (we've got a list of prices from 2000-2013), but an annual rise of 4.2% on your travelcard hits your pocket far less than an annual 4.8% rise on your rent.

Why aren't our leaders and the media talking more about this? We know you're interested. You read, share and comment on articles about housing more than just about any other topic. When we went on Twitter and asked for your stories about bad property viewings, we were genuinely overwhelmed by the sheer volume and enthusiasm with which you responded. And we're in it with you: when one of our own editors has to move to what he's optimistically calling "The Future London Borough of Elstree and Borehamwood" because he can't afford to live within the city's boundaries, there's a problem.

We have a few theories about why transport gets talked about more. Firstly, we use transport every day. There's that constant reminder of how much it costs when you have to renew your travelcard or see the PAYG total deplete. We move home or have a rent increase far less often, it's not at the forefront of our minds. In London, transport's an easy political button to press if you want to get a reaction.

Secondly, transport is less complicated than housing. Transport has been boiled down to 'low fares versus investment'. There is more to it, but we can all grasp how, if we want the tube to keep working and get better, it has to be paid for. (We'll leave the ideological argument about whether it should be paid for out of fares or central grants for another day.) Housing is complicated. Insanely complicated. For a start there's the different types of housing: mortgaged, private rent, social rent, affordable rent, shared ownership, etc. Then there's the issues of rent control, landlord regulation, where to build, how to fund it, what type to build, high-rise or low-rise, bubble, crash, buying for investment... It's impossible to put into a soundbite or pithy slogan.

Thirdly, are politicians and press afraid of alienating some of us? The thing about housing is that not everyone's a loser. If you're lucky enough to buy, you've instantly acquired a hefty asset and might not be interested in policies that could reduce its value. Transport costs, and also energy bills, are things that everyone has to pay with no economic return. A mass building programme that reduced house prices could push some people into negative equity. We wonder if this is one reason why the media's preferred to give wall-to-wall coverage to the energy bills freeze section of Ed Miliband's conference speech, rather than exploring issues accompanying his pledge to build 200,000 homes a year.

But we think London can handle these debates. Actually, we think London is crying out for these debates. We want to see more concerted campaigns about housing, like last year's Homes for London from Shelter, more debates about what these new homes will actually look like and cost. So here at Londonist we've decided to put our design where our mouth is. If you look under the 'News' menu item you'll see a new Housing section. Expect regular articles on all sides of the housing debate.

Photo by Chris Goldberg from the Londonist Flickr pool

Last Updated 26 September 2013


Housing and transport go hand in hand. Actually Housing and infrastructure go hand in hand. This is a story about cart and a horse and in which order they go

You can't just "build housing", housing needs to be connected to a massive array of infrastructure both physical, social and economic.

On the physical level housing needs to be connected to water, sewage, electricity and gas and if that capacity doesn't exist you are dead in the water. With the UK's generating capacity running at 98% we are already running into the buffers. Then you need transport links roads and pavements let alone rail, tube and bus. Let's not forget about bike lanes as people do go places.

On the social level you need things like police, fire, ambulance, schools, health (mental and physical), community centres, parks and green space, waste handling and processing (rubbish and recycling), street cleaning, lighting... I could go on but you get the point

Then there is the economic infrastructure like shops, pubs, restaurants, cafés and grocers. In an other word - an agora. A centre where people can come together and shop and be social.

If you want to just focus on building housing quickly and ignore the above requirements (especially the economic infrastructure the agora) you will be damned to repeat the mistakes of the 60's and 70's tower blocks. The ones we are tearing down today as they are monuments to abject planning failure. Or you end up with soulless urban sprawl.

More importantly this country needs to build physical infrastructure but the NIMBY instincts of the public are in overdrive. Generating station?? Not in My Backyard! Electricity pylons?? Not in My Backyard! Railway?? Not in My Backyard! Sewage treatment plant?? Not in My Backyard! Energy from waste plant?? Not in My Backyard!! Up and down this country there are thousands of NIMBY campaigns against any hope of adding to this country's infrastructure with lickspittle politicians fanning the flames in order to secure a motivated voting block.

So no wonder housing isn't being built but I guess you can always blame foreigners for buying in London. Just like Channel 4's Faisal Islam did.


It's because it's a very complicated problem to solve, and one which would require the targetting of vested interests.

If the problem is to be solved then it needs things like:

- Tax on land value increases
- A genuine attempt to decentralise the country/economy away from London and the South East
- No council tax reduction for second homes
-Allow local authorities to repossess properties that have been left
empty for a year, or sites that have planning permission that isn't
taken on before it expires.
- Investment in construction of new
council/housing association housing - the private sector has NEVER been
able to provide adequate housing in terms of numbers and quality.
- Tenancy laws to be more equitable (following the model seen in places like Germany and Holland).
- National targets/strategy imposed on local authorities for new
housing/industrial/business development. Local authorities to include
these within their Local Plans in return for central government
investment in infrastructure.
- Mandatory percentage of all new developments to be affordable/subsidised homes.
- City bonuses to be paid in company shares, tied for five years and performance-based.
- State pension to be raised so that property isn’t the only way for people to provide for themselves in their retirement.
- Separate consumer banking from investment banking. Allow
investment banks to fail if they run into difficulties. Consumer banks
to be restricted in terms of their lending/capital asset ratios.
- Regulation/formal qualification for estate agents.

Any one of these requires the challenging of the status quo - a status quo
that has made a lot of very powerful people very wealthy, and one which
MPs are probably not inclined to try and shake up, not least because so
many of them have benefited from it:

Rachel Holdsworth

These are fantastic comments! This is exactly the kind of thing I think we need to be talking about.


Personally, I'd like to see fewer high-density developments, i.e. blocks of flats, everywhere. Obviously there will be some places where this kind of housing makes more sense but it's got to the point where single houses are knocked down to make way for a block of 10 flats (as is happening at the end of my road).

It would be good to see something being done with vacant/derelict commercial sites too rather than simply expanding into green field.


Well, if the transport network is extended, then private developers will rush to build new housing (or renovate existing housing) which has convenient links to the rest of the city. That's one way to increase the housing stock of London. So news that the Crossrail station at Woolwich is being built is good, for example.

Dave H

One reason that candidates for Mayor of London have not concentrated much on housing must be that, political bravado aside, the mayor cannot actually exert much influence on housing, surely?

Yes, there are bits and pieces that the mayor can do here, but at the end of the day they don't really have any control over the housing market, or the national policies that affect it. Compare this with the direct control that the mayor has over Transport for London, and you can see why the candidates are concentrating more on transport.