The fall in home ownership is not just a southern problem

Good luck. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

We talk a lot about the house prices in this country. Once upon a time, we used to talk about how brilliant high house prices were; but at some point it’s started to dawn that high house prices serve mainly to transfer money to the old and rich from the young and poor, and these days, we’re more likely to talk about how terrible they are.

But still, there’s sometimes a tendency to think that it’s fundamentally just a London, or at least, a southern problem. Sure, London house prices are crazy, the thinking runs: but there are plenty of other places you can still afford to buy. What are these kids whining about?

Anyway, it’s bollocks.

To explain why, let’s start with a map. The housing affordability ratio is the value of the average home and the average pay packet. Historically, it’s generally hovered at around 4, which is good because four times salary is the maximum multiple of your salary that banks generally think is a good idea to led you as a mortgage.

Here’s the housing affordability ratio in 62 British cities in 2016:

Even the cheapest cities are now above 4. A significant number are way, way above 4. That doesn’t mean housing is completely out of reach, of course: people buy in couples; and first-time buyers are probably not buying the ‘average’ house, but a smaller, cheaper property. Nonetheless, this map suggests that even affordable cities are not in fact that affordable.

That said, the situation clearly is much worse in the south. Get above that Bristol-Wash line, and there are, I think, only three cities in the darker colours (a ratio of 7.7 or above): Cardiff, York and Edinburgh.

So why is the idea that house price are a southern problem nonsense? Here’s a chart of how the affordability ratio has changed over the last 10 years. It’s risen in 51 cities, and fallen in only 11.

Click to expand.

In other words, it’s getting worse almost everywhere.

And yet, it’s still risen most strikingly in the cities in the south east. So to really make my case we need another metric.

Here’s one more map. This one shows the change in the percentage of “households renting privately or living rent-free” between 2001 and 2011. That sounds more complicated than it actually is: it basically just means households living in someone else’s private property. In principle, there could be vast numbers of people living at their nan’s or something, but in practice this is almost certainly a measure of the private rental sector (PRS).

The first thing you notice: the PRS has increased in size in literally every city. The smallest increase was in Barnsley, where it changed by 4.2 per cent, from 10.1 to 14.3. At the other end of the scale s Slough, where it increased by over 13 points, from 12.1 per cent to over 25 per cent. That’s a significant shift in the local tenure mix, and likely reflects both the town’s position in the London commuter belt, and the rise of the buy-to-let landlord class.

We can put the change more baldly. In 2001, there were 21 cities where less than 10 per cent of households were renting, and just three where it was more than 20 per cent. Ten years later, literally nowhere had less than 10 per cent of households renting – the lowest was Basildon, at 11.1. Meanwhile, 21 cities were at over 20. One, Oxford, was at over 30.

Still, that was six years ago, so I’m sure things will have improved by now, right?

[Brief pause for hollow laughter.]

 This is not new information, of course. In 2016 the Resolution Foundation put out a report showing how home ownership rates had changed. It showed that they’d fallen pretty much everywhere:

Click to expand.

The other side of the coin was that private renting has soared:

Click to expand.

In all sorts of places that people who can’t afford London are patronisingly told to move to, housing has become more expensive, and people have got stuck renting.

The message is, I hope, clear. Housing has become less affordable almost everywhere. Yes, the situation is worst in the south; but we shouldn’t let this obscure the fact home ownership, something that Britain’s politicians still claim to support, is now in national crisis.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook


 

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook