Has Jacob Rees-Mogg just come out as a YIMBY?

Jacob Rees-Mogg. Image: Getty.

Many might feel that calling Jacob Rees-Mogg the Marmite of British politics would be unfair to a perfectly innocent spread rich in vitamin B12. Could anyone be more high Tory, except possibly some of David Cameron’s former chums, albeit in a very different sense?

But the champion of Conservative Brexiteers has written a strident call to end the housing crisis and drastically improve the supply of homes, calling for reform of parts the green belt and aiming for a “gradual stabilisation of prices nearer the normal multiple of three times earnings”. The “economic and social costs” of our housing crisis, he writes, are “severe”. 

But, unlike Prime Minister May and her predecessors, Rees-Mogg and his co-author Dr Radomir Tylecote – a name that could always get him a job in a science fiction film if he leaves the Institute for Economic Affairs – actually have some proposals that might make a big difference.

They omit many things. Council housing is not a plank of their platform. Housing associations are nowhere to be seen. But councils will like the call for councils to receive more tax money: “Local governments would also be rewarded by being able to keep the revenue they generate when they allow housebuilding.” Whisper it softly, but councils could then use some of that to build housing themselves.

Councils today too often lose money by allowing more homes to be built. One admitted to me it actively resisted housing for older people because of the social care costs it would have to cover. No wonder we have too few homes in the right places.

The authors also endorse the YIMBY argument: give small local communities more powers to approve building of types they like, as a supplement to the normal system, so local residents can share the benefits. Why don’t we allow residents of a single street to set a design code and approve upward extensions or more drastic replacement of existing semi-detached housing, up to five or six storeys high, so long as surrounding streets are protected? Streets of suburban semis could, when owners wish, become denser streets of attractive mansion blocks or terraces, with a dramatic increase in square footage and value for the average suburban street into the bargain.

As they point out, swathes of our cities consist of two-storey houses built over the last hundred years. Few would mourn if local residents chose to let them be replaced with something better. Homeowners will like the increased value for them from the planning permission, even as individual flats and houses become more affordable through increased supply. That would also give the advantage back to small builders, increasing competition for the large housebuilders who have come to dominate the market.

Rees-Mogg also says ‘selective’ green belt reclassification is ‘necessary’. (Cue outrage from a certain soon-to-be-former prime minister.) Land that has become low-quality should be freed for housing. Releasing green belt land within walking distance of a railway station would be a priority. Just 3.9 per cent of London’s green belt is needed for 1 million homes, they explain. But they endorse the principle of preventing large conurbations from sprawling indefinitely, lest Bath merge into Bristol.

Some ideas are not fully explained. Will their new Right to Buy or “reverse Compulsory Purchase Order” for unused government land be vested in local people, or speculators? Their eulogy to traditional architecture will have small-c conservatives crowing and most architects apoplectic. After “take back control”, Mr Rees-Mogg tells us to “take back pastiche”.

Given that Boris Johnson was the favoured candidate of the ERG, which Rees-Mogg chairs, can we expect Prime Minister Boris to promptly implement these ideas, with a radical boost to the quantity and quality of homes we build? Or will he be a bit distracted by something else? What could possibly be more important?

John Myers is co-founder of YIMBY Alliance and London YIMBY, which campaigns to end the housing crisis with the support of local people.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.