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Need to know There’s plenty of space for self-builders

How often have you been told Britain is full and that we are concreting over the countryside whenever anyone mentions anything about putting up new homes? I’m fairly sure advocates of the former view are looking out of a window in Islington, and the latter believe the AA road atlas is drawn to scale. As an ex-member of Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, and having flown above a good deal of the UK in my time, it’s pretty obvious to me that most of it isn’t concreted over. Granted, the areas that are developed tend to be chock full, but everywhere else is virtually empty. Last year, looking out of the aircraft window as we approached Venice airport, I was struck by how residential dwellings in Italy seemed to be liberally sprinkled over the landscape – rather than squashed together in tight settlements. It looked to me like the residents there had room to breathe while still forming identifiable communities.

The BBC recently ran an article by Mark Easton entitled The Great Myth of Urban Britain. The broadcaster seems obsessed with interviewing people who object to development of green belt, when what they actually mean is green field regions. There is a huge difference between the two: green belt areas are legally defined spaces around cities – which are reasonably protected – while green field land refers to large zones that haven’t been developed before. The core of Easton’s report was the findings of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment last run in 2012. Using satellite technology, they calculated how much of Britain is really developed. The results were surprising. Continuous urban fabric – where roads, pavements and buildings merge into one – runs at about 98% in the City of London. However, across the UK as a whole it’s a paltry 0.1%. As to how much of the nation is urbanised, the figure for England is 8.8%, followed by Wales at 4.2%, Northern Ireland 3.15% and just 2.1% of Scotland. Of that development, just 1.4% of total land mass is covered in buildings – less than is revealed when the tide goes out. Britain is not full, and it is certainly nowhere near being concreted over, so why the fuss?

It probably has to do with the immediacy of development in our local environment and the sheer scale of what’s happening. Forty years ago, we as a nation decided we didn’t like people building homes anywhere near where we were already living. Objecting to construction became a national pastime. The resultant housing shortage has led to soaring prices and a rapid increase of huge estates, which has simply exacerbated the problem because the change locally is overwhelming. Given that well over 90% of Britain is undeveloped, there is plenty of room for appropiate expansion through modest custom and self-build projects on a local basis. Good individual design, incremental development using local trades and keeping communities viable is the way to go. Custom and selfbuild can go such a long way to helping resolve the housing crisis.

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Build It
March 2018

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