Within 2km of a station, south east England has golf courses with room for 500,000 homes

Get a lot of houses on that, Tiger. Image: Getty.

Last summer, Alasdair Rae at the University of Sheffield wrote a blog post showing that about 0.54 per cent of the UK is golf course. It’s not much: Rae described it as roughly the same area as Greater Manchester; although in comparison it is roughly twice as much space as urban parks (0.27 per cent of the UK), and more than four times as much as the amount of continuous urban fabric (0.13 per cent).

As Rae points out, the amount of space given over to golf courses has come up several times in the UK media, including on the BBC, in the Financial Times and the Independent, amongst others. These discussion often revolve around the environmental impact of golf (generally negative, though I found little research on it) and whether golf is the best use of that space.

On the environmental side, golf’s apologists, such as commentator Peter Alliss quoted in the BBC article above, claim that much of a golf course acts as a “sanctuary for wildlife” and that they use less pesticides and fertiliser than a farm. However, farms produce food – and anyone who believes that golf courses are in any way natural has simply lost sight of what natural, untouched land actually looks like. And while a golf course can serve as a sanctuary for some wildlife, so too can a park – with the crucial difference that parks can also be enjoyed by the vast majority of the non-golfing public,

My interest here is not in the environmental debate, but rather questions about the most appropriate land use. With that in mind, I’m taking a look at the amount of land given over to golf close to train stations in London, South East and East England, the three region of the UK with the highest house prices, reflecting the high demand for housing in the London commuter belt and other cities in these areas.


I’ve arbitrarily selected a 2km radius from each train station, where it would take roughly 25 minutes of walking at a moderate pace to travel from the edge of the circle to its centre if travelling in a straight line.

Overall, there is some 191m m2 of golf course land within 2km of a train station in London, the South East and East of England. That’s some 47,218 acres, or 19108.5 hectares. That’s enough for 573,255 new homes at a very low density of just 30 homes per hectare. At a higher density, such as 80 dwellings per hectare terraced housing, that’s some 1,528,680 homes. There is 7.7bn m2 of land and water within 2km of a train station in London, the South East and East of England, and 2.47 per cent of it is golf course.

If we lower the radius to 1km, there is still 41m m2 (10,184 acres, 4,121.3 hectares) of golf course within a single kilometre of a train station, enough space to build 123,639 low density suburban houses, or 329,704 higher density houses. Certainly not enough to solve the UK’s housing issues, but it could still make a big difference.

Golf Course Map

The following map highlights in bright pink all golf course land within 2km of a train station. If the radius of two or more train stations overlaps, the train station with more passengers takes precedence, to avoid double counting of space. You can see a full screen version here.

This chart shows the ten stations with the greatest percentage of their surrounding area devoted to golf. These percentages are of all surface area, including the stations themselves, waterways, roads, etc. The actual percentage of usuable land devoted to golf is therefore at least slightly higher in all instances.

None of these stations have particularly high passenger volumes, with only West Byfleet and Elmstead Woods having more than a million passengers in 2016–17. Longcross, where the surrounding area is more than a quarter golf course, had less than 15,000 passengers last year and has no evening or weekend service.

 

I’m more interested in stations with both high passenger volumes and significant proportions of golf course nearby, some of which I have highlighted on the map above. For example, Maidenhead (below left) had over 4.6m passengers in 2017, and has a large golf course located right next to the station. Maidenhead will also be the western Crossrail terminus from December 2019, so those numbers are likely to increase drastically as commuters move into the newly built homes in the area.

Likewise 7.1 per cent of the area surrounding Richmond, the 35th busiest train station in the UK with 11.7m passengers in 2016–17, is golf course. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have published plans to build some 2,000 homes on the golf course site, though Richmond Park Golf Course is likely to stay a golf course for the foreseeable future.

I am not suggesting all golf courses should be concreted over and replaced with housing or offices. Rather, I am suggesting that the use of this land for golf does not make sense, given the many other possibilities. Access to urban green space is associated with improved general health and wellbeing (World Health Organization 2017), but it is difficult to see how a golf course – restricted to paying members or ticket holders – can have the same positive impact as a public park that anyone can visit.

Perhaps more councils should follow the example of Lewisham, which closed the Beckenham Park course in 2016 and converted it into a park to save money and provide more benefit to the majority of non-golfing local residents, although it is still visible on the map above.


Technical Notes and Data Sources

Golf course data is from the Ordnance Survey OS Open Greenspace dataset. Unfortunately it is not divisible by UK region or local authority, so I matched golf course coordinates to Regional Full Extent Boundaries data for London, the South East and East of England. I got train station coordinates from Doogal, a fantastic resource for British geographical data, and passenger numbers from the Office for Rail and Road.

As always, code is available on GitHub.

This article was originally published on Evan Odell’s own website. It appears here with his permission.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.