Show Hide image Economy 2 December 2014 Garden cities are a distraction – but the government's plan to build homes isn't The government has named Bicester in Oxfordshire as its second garden city, but to solve the housing crisis, we’d need to build six or seven of them every year. Sign up for our weekly email * Print HTML This article was originally published on the New Statesman's sister site about cities, CityMetric. Follow it on Twitter @CityMetric Much excitement this morning over the fact that the government has named Bicester in Oxfordshire as its second garden city. Bicester, which is conveniently placed for commuting to both London and Oxford, is to get an extra 13,000 homes, almost doubling the size of the town in one fell swoop. This is obviously an exciting and/or horrifying development for those who live in Bicester; it's rather less world-shaking for basically everyone else. One commonly cited estimate for the number of houses Britain needs to build each year to keep up with demand is 243,000: around 100,000 more than we've managed in each year of the last decade. So, to put today's news in perspective, here's the one-off expansion of Bicester as a proportion of the homes we need to build each and every year. Actually, though, after 10 years of not-enough--building, we've already got a backlog of 1m homes to get through, so here's Bicester as a proportion of that. Bicester is only one of three proposed garden cities, of course: the others are at Ebbsfleet, Kent, and Who-the-hell-knows, TBC. These will each feature "at least" 15,000 homes, so once completed, however long that takes, they'll account for slightly under half the extra houses we need to meet one year’s demand. In other words, for garden cities to solve the housing crisis, we’d need to build six or seven of the things every year. This is clearly not something we're going to do. The contribution garden cities will make to fixing this mess will be tiny. The government's National Infrastructure Plan, published today, does mention other strategies intended to solve the housing crisis. They include: releasing public land for 150,000 homes during the five years of the next parliament; supporting the extension of the London Overground to Barking Riverside at the cost of £55m, to support 11,000 homes; supporting the regeneration of Brent Cross in north London (that's another 7,500). In all, the government says, it'll allocate £957m of capital to deliver 275,000 affordable homes during the course of the next parliament. That's 55,000 a year. Which sounds impressive, until you remember that: a) The government has delivered between 40,000 and 60,000 affordable homes every year since 2005, so it’s not that impressive after all; and b) we need to build 243,000 homes every year. Today's announcements do, however, include one piece of good news for those who'd like to see the housing crisis solved – and, to be fair, it's a biggie. The government is getting back into the house building game for the first time in decades. And if it goes well, this won't be the last time. From the Treasury: The government [will] master-plan, directly commission, build and even sell homes. A pilot programme on a government-owned former RAF base in Northstowe, near Cambridge, will see the Homes and Communities Agency leading development of 10,000 homes. This is probably not the harbinger of the sort of major government building programme Britain saw after World War One: rather, it looks suspiciously like an attempt to turn up the heat on the private sector. Some have speculated that housebuilders' desire to keep sale prices high has been trumping their incentives to increase volumes. Increased competition might change that. As chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said this morning: "The message to the housebuilding sector would be simple: if you don't build them, we will." Ignore Bicester – this is the real housing story today. › Why the next general election will be pivotal for sex worker rights Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook. Subscribe from just £1 per issue More Related articles Will Storm Doris affect turnout in the Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland by-elections? What does it mean for Ukip if it loses in Stoke-on-Trent Central? What does François Bayrou's endorsement of Emmanuel Macron mean for the French presidential race?