No, crazy house price increases are not purely a London phenomenon

No chance. 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. 

So, let’s break the habit of a lifetime and talk about housing.

While it’s true Britain has a national housing crisis, it’s also true that we tend to talk about it from the viewpoint of London and the South East (where the problem is one of insanely high prices and the near impossibility of getting onto the ladder) than from that of other parts of the country facing other problems (quality, insecurity and so forth). Not all housing crises are created equal.

And yet: we can this revisionism too far. Over the last 15 years, every city in Great Britain has seen substantial increases in prices. Look:

The smallest increase between 2003 and 2017 came in Sunderland, and even that was over 40 per cent. In other words, for wages to have kept up with house prices, they would have to increase by an average of 2.4 per cent a year – and that’s in the city where prices have increased least.

That map shows a lot of cities, though, so – for the purposes of analysing broader trends – let’s restrict ourselves to the big guys. The next graph shows house prices change in 12 of Britain’s major cities (the 10 Core Cities, plus the capitals of London and Edinburgh) between 2003 and 2017. Let’s find out what the data tells us.

The trends are still a bit difficult to spot, to be honest – both prices in London, and the rate at which they’ve increased, are so much higher than in the other cities that it renders the rest of the graph pretty unreadable.

 

So let’s simplify things. Instead of looking at absolute prices, let’s look at how they’ve changed.

This next graph shows mean house prices as a function of their 2003 value: if the average home in a city was worth £150,000 in 2003, but £300,000 in 2017, then on the latter it’ll show up as “2.0”. That should make it easier to spot trends.

Two things instantly jump out at me about London. One is that – entirely unshockingly – the increase in house prices in the capital has been quite ludicrous. By 2017, they were nearly two and a half times higher than they were in 2003, when our data series starts – and that was already in the middle of a boom.

But another is that – while prices in London have increased steadily – it’s only since the crash that it’s really shot out ahead of the pack. Around 2009, as prices in most other cities start to drift, those in London continue to soar. That, I would guess, reflects both the city’s resilience after the crash, and the fact that over the last 10 years property in major world cities has become a sort of reserve currency for the global rich.

London’s trajectory means the rest of the graph is still a bit hard to read, so let’s do this again without it:

Bristol and Manchester are vying for the top spot in 2017: prices in both cities have nearly doubled.

But the two have followed very different paths. Prices in Manchester increased fairly steadily on either side of the Great Recession, suggesting the rises are a function of the city’s long-running regeneration. In Bristol, though, the increases started much slower, before shooting up from about 2013. My suspicion is this is escapees from London, looking for more space.


Lower down the table, things are much of a muchness, with increases moving in a what looks suspiciously like a pack: rapid increases from 2003-2007, a wobble until about 2012, followed by slower increases since. But three cities defy this pattern at least slightly.

One is Liverpool which, as I’ve noted several times in this slot of late, experienced a bit of a boom in the run up to its year as European Capital of Culture, but has struggled somewhat since the crash: that seems to be reflected in its house prices. Those in Newcastle has seen a similar trajectory, but without the dramatic boom.

And then there’s Nottingham, which has seen the smallest increase in prices since 2003, but where prices have increased rather faster since 2013. I don’t know much about Nottingham, in all honesty, so am struggling to explain this. Please do write in.

It’s difficult to come up with a coherent conclusion to all this, in all honesty, so I’m going to settle for:

  1. No, the house price crisis – let alone the broader housing crisis – Is not purely a London phenomenon; and
  2.  London house prices, eh? Bloody hell.

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

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The media scumbag’s route of choice: A personal history of London’s C2 bus

A C2 bus at Parliament Hill. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

London’s C2 bus route, which runs from Parliament Hill, by Hampstead Heath, down to Conduit Street, just off Regent Street, is one of the bus routes recently earmarked for the chop. It has oft been noted that, of all the routes recently pencilled in for cancellation after a consultation late last year, it was the one most likely to survive, for the simple reason that it links liberal suburban north London with BBC Broadcasting House and Soho; it’s thus the route most likely to be used by people who can convince someone to let them report on its imminent demise.

So it would come as no surprise that former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger took to the Camden New Journal when the consultation began, arguing that it would be a disservice to the local community to discontinue a route where you can always get a seat – seemingly missing the point that the fact you can always get a seat is not a great sign of the route’s usefulness.

It wasn’t always that way. When I left university in 2000, and moved from accommodation near college to up to a rented shared house in N6, the C2 was my bus. I commuted to Soho for sixteen years: for more than a decade from flats around the Swain’s Lane roundabout, and for five years from Kentish Town. While my place of work bounced around from Golden Square to Lexington Street to Great Marlborough, it was always the most convenient way to get to, and from, work; especially given the difference between bus and tube prices.

So when it comes to the C2 I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and bought the bus pass. And by bus pass, I mean those little paper ones that still existed at the beginning of this century. Not just before contactless, but before Oyster cards.

More importantly, it was before London buses operated a single zone. There was an outer zone, and an inner zone, with different prices. To travel from one zone to another cost £1.30, meaning an all cash commute was £2.60, whereas a paper bus pass was £2.00. That made it worth your while to divert to an early opening newsagents on your way to the bus stop (GK, in my case), even if you only got two buses a day.

It’s a measure of how greatly London’s buses have improved over the last twenty years, since first brought under control of the mayoralty, that pretty much everything about this anecdotage, including the prices, seems faintly mad. But there’s more: back when I started getting that bus down to Stop N, literally at the very end of the route, the C2 used single decker buses with a single door. It’s an appalling design for use in a crowded city, which meant most of any journey was, for most passengers, spent fighting your way up and down the middle of the bus to find a seat, and then back again to get off; or – and this was more likely – fighting your way up the bus to get into standing space the driver insisted was there, before fighting your way, etc.

Such buses – and in my former life in the English Midlands I went to school on one of these buses every day – are perfectly functional where bus stops are infrequent and buses rarely standing room only. But running through Camden Town at rush hour, they’re wholly unfit for purpose.

A Citypacer. Image: RXUYDC/Wikimedia Commons.

It could have been worse. I didn’t know this at the time, but a few years before the C2 route had been run using Optare City Pacers. Those are, let us be frank, not really buses at all, but minibuses. That’s something the reveals the C2’s origins, as a hopper route to the west end largely intended for the daytime use of Gospel Oak’s pensioners in the years immediately before bus privatisation. (The C11 has a similar origin, taking the same constituency from Archway to England’s Lane.)

Once responsibility for London Buses was moved to the newly established mayoralty, things improved dramatically. Under Ken Livingstone it went double decker in 2005, and 24 hour in 2007. Under Boris Johnson it was extended from its once, and future, terminus of Conduit Street to Victoria Station, swallowing up the cancelled sections of the 8 bus; this extension was quietly disposed of a few years later, once it was clear no one would notice. (I did.)


In those years I must have taken a C2 the best part of ten thousand times; but for all the years when I wouldn’t have been able to live without the C2, times have reduced its utility, and not just for me. I’m now a 214 sort of guy: these days the top chunk of the C2 route is duplicated exactly by that other bus, which starts up in Highgate Village and, once it gets to Swain’s Lane, follows the same path until the fork of Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street, opposite the long defunct South Kentish Town tube station.

From a few hundred metres below that point, at Camden Gardens, stop C, the 88 starts. That duplicates the rest of the C2’s route, with the exception of the run down Albany Street and onto Great Portland, for much of which the C2 is the only bus.

So the C2, old friend that it is, is pretty redundant in the age of the hopper fare, which allows you to change buses without paying a second fare. That’s even more true now the C2’s otherwise un-serviced stops are being giving over to a re-routed 88, which will pick up the C2’s most northern leg, by not finishing at Camden Gardens anymore and instead going all the way to Parliament Hill Fields. Which will be nice for it.

All this, however, ignores the best reason for getting rid of the C2 (or rather for merging it with the 88, which is what’s actually happening): that first character. The letter. Who wants a bus route with a letter in front of it when even half the night buses don’t have the N anymore? It’s relic of the route’s aforementioned origins as a ‘Camdenhopper’.

That C is twenty five years past its own utility. It’s just untidy. City Metric hates that sort of thing. Get rid.