Letter: The case for developing metropolitan London’s golf courses

Editor’s note: Last month, I wrote a piece arguing that London should consider turning some of its many, many golf courses into housing estates. In it, I professed to be ignorant about exactly how many golf courses London had, let alone how much space they took up or how many homes you could fit on them.

Helpfully enough, though, and not for the first time, a reader has been in touch with an answer…

Dear Jonn

I read your original golf course piece at work the other day whilst I was literally working with the exact data sets at the time and I thought – I could work that out. So I did. I was proudly searching the site for your contact details when I discovered someone’s dad had beaten me to it.

I used a slightly different method though: inside a 30km buffer from the Greater London boundary, there are 22442 hectares of land which make up 478 golf courses:

I read your reader’s dad’s analysis and thought it was potentially too car orientated. So I thought I’d avoid doing proper work my day-job for a little longer, and I generated a 2km circle round each train station within 30km of London to see how much golf course is within approximately a half hour walk of a train service.

So how much space is that? The answer is 16033 hectares, or 160km2. That’s enough land for 641,320-961,980 homes at medium densities of 40-60 dwellings per hectare.  

A relatively minor tweak to national policy, or local interpretation of that policy – you could to argue that golf courses are “previously developed land” – this is potential a route through existing greenbelt policy.


Nicholas Goddard



Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.

At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.