This map shows that London is the epicentre of the house price crisis

You will never own one of these: London houses from the air. Image: Getty.

Sometimes a map makes a point so simply, so eloquently, that any words one writes to accompany it feel almost superfluous. Writing superfluous words is, however, literally what they pay me for, so I guess I’d better get on with it.

The diagram below shows, effectively, what has happened to house prices in England and Wales since the financial crash. Each parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom appears as a single identically-sized hexagon, its colour chosen to represent what happened to house prices in the area between 2007 and 2016:

  • House prices in constituencies shown in red have fallen;
  • Those in yellow have risen by less than 25 per cent; that, over nine years, works out at around 2.5 per cent a year or less, so given inflation effectively equates to price stability;
  • Those in green have risen more markedly – the light green by 25-50 per cent, the mid green by 50-75 per cent, the dark green by 75 per cent or more;
  • Those in grey – that is, Scotland and Northern Ireland – don’t have comparable data. Boo.
  • It’s the work of Imactivate – the software and data company of occasional CityMetric-er Tom Forth.

Right, that’s the spiel out of the way. Here’s the map:

To see the full-size version, right click and select 'Open in a new tab'.

Paints a picture, doesn’t it?

The picture it paints, I would suggest, is that of what one might term “the London effect”. The greatest price growth has come in the centre of the city, and those areas of north east and south London that have become a lot more fashionable over the last decade. The greatest increase of all that I can find is in Hackney North & Stoke Newington, where prices literally doubled in nine years.

The further you go from the capital, though, the smaller the price rises have been. Most of Greater London and the inner ring of commuter towns has seen prices rise by more than half; but there are more stately increases in the area beyond, and those places outside the commuter belt have barely seen increases at all. Go far enough from London, in fact, to the more far flung bits of Wales or parts of the north, and prices have actually fallen.

There are two noteworthy exceptions to this broad pattern. It’s probably correct to think of the block of green around Bath and Bristol as its own housing market, rather than an extension of the London one: prices anecdotally have been pushed up there by Londoners selling-up and moving out, but they’re a bit too far out to be commuter territory, really.

Then there’s the smaller green area in Trafford to the west of Manchester. That may reflect both the resurgence of central Manchester and the rise of Salford Quays, although the fact the growth hasn’t spread beyond those plushest southern suburbs is perhaps telling.

So how should we interpret all this? It probably at least partly reflects a decade of low interest rates and a shortage of other good assets at which rich people can throw their capital. London has risen most because it’s a world city: you can see similar effects in New York and San Francisco and Sydney and Toronto.

Then there’s the argument of the economist Frances Coppola, who tweeted the map with the comment, “There is no housing crisis. There is an agglomeration effect” - that is, more and more people and jobs being sucked into London. Downthread, she added:

I’m not entirely sold on this argument. (Well, I wouldn’t be, would I?) My sense has always been that people are following jobs, rather than housing – if the availability of housing was the key pull factor, we’d see more people moving to those many parts of the country that don’t have London’s housing crisis. Basically, I don’t see how not building more in and around London helps anyone, except possibly the Campaign to Protect Rural England – and since they need to fundraise, I’m not even sure it helps them.

It’s also worth noting that home ownership rates haven’t just fallen in London, but in most major conurbations. (See this 2016 Resolution Foundation report.) If prices have “only” risen by a quarter since 2007, when they were already eye-wateringly high, they’re still a long way out of the reach of many young people.


 So while this map shows that the house price insanity is at its worst in and around London, I think there’s a limit to what it tells us about how affordable housing is nationwide, or whether building more is the solution to it.

Oh, and it’s also, as analyst Neal Hudson notes, a reflection only of the prices of homes sold, not of those which haven’t come to market. So.

You can play with more Imactivate house price maps here.

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

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Why exactly do Britain’s rail services to the cities of the South West keep getting cut off?

You see the problem? The line through Dawlish. Image: Geof Sheppard/Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve ever looked at some picturesque photos of British railways, perhaps in a specialist railway magazine – we’re not judging – then you’ve probably seen images of the South West Railway sea wall, with trains running tantalisingly close to the sea, either framed by blue skies and blue water or being battered by dramatic waves, depending on the region’s notoriously changeable weather.

Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and open since the 1840s, the line was placed so close to the water to avoid the ruinous cost of tunnelling through the South Devon hills. From Dawlish Warren to Teignmouth the line is, with the odd interruption, exposed to the sea, affording the striking images so beloved of rail photographers. Its exposed placement also inevitably leads to speed limitations, closure and damage to the infrastructure. This would be a matter of purely local interest were it not for the fact that the sea wall is an unavoidable link in rail routes to the South West.

Main line trains run from London Waterloo and Paddington down to the Devon hub of Exeter St Davids, before continuing on to Plymouth, Truro and other destinations on the peninsula. Trains leaving St Davids reach the bottleneck very quickly, following the river Exe and its estuary, before dipping behind the sand dunes and emerging on to the sea wall.

What happens to the track at the small seaside towns of Dawlish Warren and Dawlish therefore has an impact on the whole region. South Devon and Cornwall are inaccessible by rail when the sea wall is temporarily closed or, as happened in January 2014, when storms breached the sea wall altogether, damaging it so severely it took weeks to repair.

While it’s easy to understand the economic logic of building the sea wall in the first place, unsurprisingly the economics of maintaining the damn thing have proven less compelling. The sea wall is considered to be, per mile, the most expensive stretch of Network Rail’s network to maintain. It’s also baffling to modern eyes why the main line rail services for a whole region would flow through such a vulnerable bottle neck.

The Devon rail network. Image: Travel Devon.

As with so many oddities of the British rail system, these perversities emerged from the rapid change that came in the mid 20th century through war, nationalisation and Dr Beeching.

The need for a Dawlish Avoiding Line was identified as early the 1930s. This would have diverted from the existing route at Exminster, and rejoined the line between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot, passing through Dawlish inland. Tweaks to the plan were made, but by 1939 construction was under way, only to be suspended when war broke out. Work on the project did not resume after the war, and when the Great Western Railway became part of the nationalised British Railways it was not a priority. The land for the Dawlish Avoiding Line was later sold by British Rail and has subsequently been built on, so that was that.

In the 1960s, Dr Beeching’s axe fell on rail routes across Devon, including the lines through North Devon that had provided an alternative rail route through the county. Those closed lines have also been extensively built on or converted to other uses, leaving a single main line through Devon, and rendering the sea wall unavoidable.

In recent years the condition of the sea wall has become increasingly precari


ous. That’s not only due to storm damage to the wall itself, but also due to the potential for erosion of cliffs overlooking the rail line, resulting in falling rocks. While this has been an ongoing issue since... well, since the sea wall was opened over 150 years ago, the storm of 4 February 2014 brought the matter to national attention. The visual of twisted rails hanging out into empty space illustrated the problem in a way pages of reports on the precarious nature of the line never could.

An army of Network Rail workers descended on Dawlish to get the line re-opened within two months. But repairing the damage hasn’t resolved the base problem, and climate change increases the likelihood of further major storm damage. In October 2018 the line was hastily closed for weekend repairs when storms resulted in a six foot hole appearing under the tracks near Teignmouth.

Supportive noises of varying intensity and occasional oblique funding commitments have come from government in the last five years, and investigations and consultations have been conducted by both Network Rail and the Peninsula Rail Task Force, a group set up by local councils in the wake of February 2014. Proposals currently on the table include Network Rail’s plan to extend a section of the sea wall further out to sea, away from the crumbling cliffs, and reopening the Okehampton line across Dartmoor to provide an alternative rail route between Exeter and Plymouth. 

But in spite of talk about investment and grand plans, no major work is underway or funded, with Network Rail continuing their work maintaining and repairing the existing line, and the situation seems unlikely to change soon.

Massive spending on rail infrastructure in the South West is a hard Westminster sell, especially in the Brexit-addled political climate of the last few years. And with the parliamentary map of the region dominated by blue there’s been little political will to challenge the vague commitments of government. One of the South West’s few Labour MPs, Exeter’s Ben Bradshaw, is particularly damning of the failure of Tory MPs to put pressure on the government, using a recent column for Devon Live to describe them as “feeble”.

But regardless of the political will to solve the problems of rail in the South West, barring a string of unusually gentle winters, the issue isn’t going away soon. If the South West is to be an accessible and successful part of the UK, then it needs stable rail infrastructure that can survive whatever the weather throws at it.