The murky world of think tanks, lobbying shops and pressure groups is a crowded one – but I think I’ve identified a gap in the market. The Campaign for the Promotion of Residential England would fight bravely, relentlessly, and with a single noble purpose: to cover the fields of the Home Counties with bricks and mortar.
The other CPRE, as it would be known, would campaign tirelessly against the green and pleasant noose choking off London’s growth, and demand the destruction of the greenbelt. It would talk endlessly about tower blocks (we’d be pro) and farmland (we’d be anti). “Nice national park you’ve got there,” it would say. “Look lovely with a few thousand semis on it.”
I don’t actually believe all of this, you understand: housing costs are clearly too high, but trees are nice while American-style ribbon development isn’t. Nonetheless, we need to increase the pressure on the powers-that-be to stop pissing about and build more housing, and if calling for the tarmacing of the North Downs is the only way to do it, then so be it.
There are all sorts of reasons we don’t build enough houses, but one of the biggest is surely the difference in political muscle between those who’d benefit and those who wouldn’t. The former group are legion – but they’re young, so less likely to vote, and are anyway spread too thinly to make their presence felt. They’re also – one suspects this is important – poor. By contrast, those most inclined to block major new housing developments will be those who already own homes in an area. These are visible, rooted, and, relatively speaking, rich. Which of these two constituencies do you think politicians are most likely to listen to?
What we need to do, then, is to rebalance the incentives, to make the voice of the have-nots that little bit louder. That is where my new pressure group comes in.
There already are organisations that campaign for an end to the housing crisis, of course – but these are mostly charities, and thus limited by both regulation and ethics. The other CPRE would suffer no such constraints. It would cheerfully offer statements to the media in favour of any building scheme, no matter how ill-conceived. It’d release dodgy research proving that the greenbelt did, in fact, cause cancer. And it would learn the lessons taught by a dozen ideologically-driven “think tanks” before it: that if you want to move the debate, then credibility matters a whole lot less than shouting very loudly and getting your name in the papers a lot.
In unrelated news, the Taxpayer’s Alliance just released a report calling on cash-strapped councils to replace lawnmowers with cows.
Getting homes built in any serious number is going to be hard. It’ll require a lot of reform, against a lot of opposition, and will need a concerted effort by a political class which, for the most part, has a vested interest in things staying how they are.
But the easiest way to create the political space to construct a million new homes will be to start campaigning for three million of them. That way, when prices level out instead of collapsing; when inner London gets intensified, but Tunbridge Wells survives unscathed; when the North Downs are left intact, and the only greenbelt land sacrificed is a few Essex farms clinging to the inside edge of the M25. Then most of those nimbies will count themselves lucky, and breathe a long sigh of relief that they got off so lightly.
Now, the other CPRE just needs someone to fund it.