How housing inequality is screwing up the country

Never gets old. 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.  

Some people get excited about their holidays, or the new Beyoncé album. I, however, have been almost uncontrollably excited since last week when my mole at the Centre for Cities let slip that it was publishing a report on the links between regional inequality and Britain's housing market. (Honestly, it was like Christmas Eve in my house last night. I left a bit of carrot out for Paul Swinney and everything.)

Anyway, to the report! Some key findings:

London saw the largest increases in housing wealth and Sunderland the smallest.

Yep, makes sense.

As housing wealth for homeowners in the Greater South East grows, so do rents for private renters.

Figures.

And then the kicker:

Planning policy has made urban homeowners in the Greater South East over £80,000 richer than those elsewhere in England and Wales since 2013.

...wowser.

Planning reform is needed to stop the gifting of wealth to homeowners in successful cities.

The planning system makes inequality worse and threatens financial stability.

Ouch.

Taken together, these points suggest that there are very few winners from our current system. That homes in one corner of the country are soaring in price far faster than those everywhere else is great if you own one, and are either happy to borrow recklessly against it or to sell-up and move somewhere cheaper. But they're bad for owners elsewhere, who relatively speaking fall behind.

They're also bad for renters in the south east, who are paying through the nose just so they don't need to sleep in the rain. They are bad for labour mobility, and thus for the broader economy. They are even bad for those who own a home in the south east, but may plausibly want a bigger home one day. They're bad for almost, but not quite, everyone.

What you really want is a map, though, so here you go. This one shows average housing equity – that is, value minus mortgage – in English and Welsh cities in 2013, with lower numbers in lemon yellow and higher ones in dark green. It also uses the size of the bubbles to represent how much that number had increased by 2018. What can we learn?

Click to expand.

The first observation is that there's a distinct correlation between colour and bubble size. You'd probably expect house prices in cities where housing was already expensive in 2013 to have increased by most in absolute terms – a 20 per cent increase of a large number, after all, is bigger than a 20 per cent increase of a small one.


But the bubble size doesn’t just represent absolute numbers. It represents the percentage of the figure where we started: house prices in expensive cities have not just gone up not just by bigger numbers, but by bigger percentages. As the book of Matthew warns, in not so many words: the rich get richer and the poor get stuffed.

Secondly, there's a very familiar north-south divide on show. That's there, sort of, in the 2013 prices – but there are also a few cities with low housing equity in yellow the London commuter belt (Luton, Ipswich, Swindon), and a few with higher numbers in green in the north (York, Warrington, Leeds). In other words, in 2013, there are some places in the north where high house prices made homeowners feel rich, and some in the south where lower house prices probably didn't.

The equity growth, though, is much more tilted towards the south east. Almost every city in and around London has seen significant increases in housing equity (one unlikely exception: Aldershot; no idea). And almost no city in the north has. Even York, the poster child for "basically a southern city at the wrong end of the country" has seen prices increases on a scale that would look a bit insipid in the north. Yet even, frankly, crap cities around London have seen house price booms, because, well, because they're around London.

While we're at it – here are the cities that have seen the largest increase in housing equity, and those that have seen the smallest.

Click to expand.

I'd ask if you can spot any patterns but you obviously can so it's pointless.

Anyway – you can read the full report here. And you can hear the Centre for Cities' head of policy Paul Swinney talking about this on next week's podcast. Told you it was worth leaving a treat out for him.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.