London’s golf courses could provide homes for a million people, even at low densities

A map of London, with golf courses highlighted. Image: Ordnance Survey/John Murray.

So there’s a guy called Stephen Jorgenson-Murray who’s contributed a dozen or so articles to these pages. Nothing unusual in that, of course – lots of people (journalists, politicos, wonks, interested nerds) do it.

But what makes Stephen unusual is that, after a while, his family started getting involved too. Last year we had a piece on Teesside from his wife Danni. And back in June we had this piece of genius from his dad John, who used graph theory to work out where the Proclaimers had walked 500 miles too.

I can think of another married couple who’ve both contributed to CityMetric, but the Jorgenson-Murrays are, thus far, the only extended family group we’ve had get involved. All of which is a long way of telling the rest of you to raise your respective games.

Anyway. The reason I say all this is because yesterday I wrote an article arguing that that too much of London was taken up by golf courses, and that maybe we should look at reusing some of them as parks or housing estates or other more useful things. But I was a bit vague on exactly how much golf course this city has, on the grounds that I didn’t actually know.

What do I find awaiting me this morning, though, but an email from Stephen:

Hi Jonn

I showed my dad your golf courses article and he worked out how much area they take up in London.

...game on. Amazing what you can do with Ordnance Survey data, isn’t it? It continues:

In Greater London, there are 131 courses (some crossing the border) covering 51.1 km² (19.7 mi²).

Within the M25, there are 189 courses covering 76.4 km² (29.5 mi²), which is 3.3 per cent of total land.

Why the first map uses the boundaries of the multi-borough constituencies used for elections to the Greater London Assembly is something I suspect we shall never know.

Anyway. I’ve not checked John’s work – I wouldn’t even know how – so can’t guarantee it’s entirely correct. But let’s work on the assumption it’s at least roughly right, and ask how many homes this land could provide for.

Well: a square kilometre is 100 hectares, so the lowest level of housing density discussed in the housing plan – 35 homes per hectare – works out to 3,500 homes per square kilometre. So: repurpose all of Greater London’s golf courses as housing, and at minimum densities you have space for (51.1 x 3,500) homes, which is 178,850.

Administrative boundaries are a bit meaningless, though, so let’s run the same calculation for all golf courses within the M25. This time the resulting figure is (76.4 x 3,500), which is 267,400.


At low densities, we’re looking at family homes rather than one-bedroom flats. So it is entirely plausible that you could provide big, comfortable homes for another 1 million people within the M25, using no land other than that currently taken up by golf courses.

We’re never actually going to do this, of course, and even if we could we probably shouldn’t: even if golf club memberships are falling, some courses will survive, and anyway open space is a good thing. But the point is clear, all the same: London is keeping a lot of land free for golf.

I remain unconvinced that, in the midst of a housing crisis, this is actually a good thing.

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

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Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.


There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.