Imagine that the UK had enough housing that every single household occupied a detached or semi-detached house (two thirds of them in detached houses) and all the country’s 12 million currently occupied terraced houses, maisonettes and flats were empty. You might think that to provide so much housing we would need to “concrete over the countryside”, in fact we would need to switch just 2.5% of the UK’s land area to urban residential use. Switching much less would provide a more than adequate supply.
Of course this level of development is far more than is needed: we would hardly want so much over-supply that there would be 12m unused properties. Providing houses (rather than flats) for every one of the 7m people currently living alone would be gross overkill. Needs could be met with a much lower proportion (certainly much less than 1%) of land changing from rural to urban.
As this is a far cry from scare stories and “small over-crowded island” myth assiduously pushed by the tabloids. So lets look at the numbers. There are 24.7m households in Britain. About 52% of these live in detached or semi-detached houses. This means just under 12m households occupy terraced houses, maisonettes, and flats.
Assuming that the housing density is the 20 units a hectare of “outer urban detached houses“, we need 0.59m acres, which is 2.45% of the UK’s land area of 24.16m hectares.
In fact, if you consider that there are many large urban terraced houses which are more than adequate as a family home: there are lots of spacious four or more bedroom terraced houses in Central London and the inner suburbs.
Add to this than good proportion of the 7m single people, to say nothing of couples without children, who would be quite happy to live in a flat (and let other people do the gardening).
I spent and year living in the Barbican, and loved it. Obviously not every development can match the Arts Centre, but the high quality of both the flats and the shared gardens, and facilites such as the library, should not be too difficult to emulate. It has enough space to be a reasonable choice even for a family with children, if they can afford one of the larger flats. High quality urban housing (not done on the cheap like much of it), has it place and further reduces the amount of land needed.
So housing crisis? Yes, Britain can have as as great a shortage of housing as it is willing to allow greenbelt NIMBYs to impose.