In defence of moving to zone 4

Redbridge station. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

As a hip young millennial, by rights me and my housemate should be living in a £900 per month loft in Shoreditch/Dalston/Stoke Newington, where he has the bed and I have a “mezzanine floor” which is really just a large shelf with a mattress on, fearing for my life every time I get up in the dark. Alternatively, we could go for an artsy flat with cacti growing out of the wall but also no hot water (I’ve been there) for a mere £520 per month.

It’s not often, as a young person, that you get advised to shed the shackles of coolness, nightlife, bars and even a Sainsbury’s Local in favour of your friendly Zone 4 location nearly in Essex. But that is what I am here to do.

About October last year, me and my current housemate decided we would finally live together because 1) we were both sick of our current housing situations and 2) we knew we’d get on. The only problem was we were both poor and flats in London are expensive. So we had three choices – compromise on location, on price, or on quality.

We decided to do the first.

When we found a flat in the suburbs, we both started desperately justifying it. It’s right by Redbridge tube. It’s a short commute to work for us both. It’s £50 cheaper than any flat we’ve seen and actually under our budget. It even has nice parquet floors.

After a fair bit of wrangling with the landlord needing a double deposit lest all our references be fake, despite the fact neither of us have ever been late on rent in our lives, we got it: The Flat Of Dreams right out in Zone 4.

And it’s perfect.

So, here is my defence of Zone 4 And Not Living In The Hippest Places.

It’s cheap and large AND we have double rooms each

As mentioned, for £575 a month in rent, we each have double rooms, there’s a lot of hallway and a big living room, bathroom, small kitchen, and a lot of cupboards. The best bit, though, is the bay window and balcony with a panoramic view of the Redbridge roundabout and the tube station, which is excellent for people watching.

It’s not expensive and neither of us have to sleep in a hallway in lieu of a room. I’d say this was a stereotype of many hipper more central locations, but seeing horror stories about airing cupboards/under the stairs cupboards/an actual shelf, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.


We have Wanstead right next door

I have come to think of Wanstead as a sweet, quiet oasis, in which, on Saturday mornings, I can see green grass and people with small dogs, hear a bird sing and breathe air that is probably only 45 per cent saturated with pollution. Seriously, it’s really good.

There are a lot of places in the suburbs of the capital where you can reap the rewards of swapping the hip stuff for things a bit further out. This one has one of the best high streets in the country, and loads of nice pubs that could almost be in the countryside. It’s great.

Big supermarkets are few and far between in London

Having moved around a lot in London I am always craving a big supermarket. I feel soothed in their large cathedral like aisles where I can browse for hours, buying things I don’t need.

But you don’t really get many big old Tesco Extras in the middle zones of London. In sweet Zone 4, however, we have a big Tesco,  medium Tesco, medium Sainsbury’s, another medium Sainsbury’s, many Lidl and a Co-op. Like – yes you may think that is mundane, but when you need a baking tin at short notice on a Tuesday night it’s ideal.

It takes literally 20 minutes to get into central London

I mean it’s on the Central Line. It’s not exactly two hours on a pacer train away (yes, friends who live in south west, it takes 45 minutes to get from yours to mine so you can definitely manage it).

The night tube is a thing

We have two things on our high street open after 9pm – a Spar in the petrol station and also the Beefeater pub. If neither of these things tickle your fancy on a night out, the night tube now does run and calls at our very Zone 4 station. Even going out in Brixton only takes an hour home, with enough time to eat a Maccies in the station before you get on the train.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t go to bed at 10pm every night, but the network of night busses is also good, along with Uber. 

It’s nice.

I like where I live, it’s a good flat and it’s a cheaper location than everywhere else. Yes, even though Wanstead is recommended for families who don’t quite want to leave London yet, there’s literally nothing around Redbridge station – but for sacrificing a postcode, we got somewhere pleasant we can afford between just the two of us without too much hassle, which is saying a lot in London. Loads of good stuff is in walking distance and to be honest I can’t even be bothered trying to be hip enough to have cool clubs and pubs on my doorstep.

Living in Zone Four is just more like living in a normal non-Londoney place – it takes 20 minutes to get into the city centre. It’s reduced my stress levels a lot because there aren’t always people around . And come on, it’s London, there’s a tube every four minutes.

I just think it’s something we all need to consider, rather than turning it into the only-being-able-to-afford-a-zone-four-flat joke.

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.