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July 31, 2007
Housing or railways – which is worse?
I can’t decide which is in a bigger state of crisis: Britain’s railways or its housing?
Ruth Kelly must have been stifling her laughter last week as she announced exciting plans to essentially cut the number of train seats in Britain. Oh yes, she’s going to increase the actual numbers by about 2-3%, but compare that with the 10% rise in passengers and you can see what sort of mess we’re in. We either need double-decker trains or a new high-speed line up and down the country. But that would put us in danger of getting something right, and we can’t have that.
But then there’s Andrew Gilligan’s documentary on housing which was broadcast on Channel 4 last night. The first section didn’t quite work (it was new homeowners whinging about the quality of new-build homes, and naturally wasn’t very surprising), but the levels of corruption between the government and the construction industry in the latter two-thirds of the programme was incredible, and ultimately depressing.
Remember John Prescott’s miracle £60,000 house that was wildly trumpeted in the heady days of New Labour? He showed us all a prototype and said it would solve all our problems.
Well, it will if you’re willing to pay £255,000 instead. Because that’s what it sells for in reality.
Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I have a solution (albeit pilfered). Will Hutton has the right idea, as usual. Debt-financed railway building, as proven by the wonderful world of private equity. But more surprisingly, Germaine Greer has the right idea on housing: we need to build upwards. Not only that, but we need to make high-rise attractive. There’s not enough land, we all seem to want to work in cities, and it’s the only answer.
If I was in a sarcastic mood, I’d suggest letting Guardian columnists just launch a coup and be done with it. The Polly Toynbee-loving Tories might not complain any more.