Building on allotments

Agriculture & Food, Politics, Society, Sustainability

@SaveFarmTerrace tweeted me yesterday:

So I’ve written a letter to the Mayor. Right now the comment is held in moderation so I’m posting it here just in case.

Please try to post any follow up comments at and not on this blog.

This seems like a great idea! More decent homes is just what Watford needs. If you’re to preserve Watford as being a fantastic place to live, there needs to be great accommodation, great local resources, good schools, food, healthcare, water supply and treatment infrastructure, and so on.

As you say, this is all a by-product of success. It’s a tough job running a town, and sometimes, too, there are decisions and compromises which need to be made.

But let’s pause for a second, because there’s an issue here which looks like it might be going unaddressed.

The statements:

  1. Lack of housing is a real issue for the town
  2. Private landlords are charging high rents due to shortage of decent properties
  3. Social housing waiting list is now in excess of three thousand
  4. “We can’t say Watford is full up – there is no such concept.”

So, let’s say more houses are built. This will be good quality housing – and since demand will exceed supply on account of that waiting list and Watford’s popularity – new rooms will be let at market price, and thus do nothing to reduce the average cost of rents.

Since Watford is awesome, and we’re not prepared to accept the idea that Watford can be full up, then this cycle looks set to go on forever.

If it goes on forever, is there a risk that Watford will become a less desirable place to live? Will we suddenly discover that there’s too much housing relative to the infrastructure which creates and supports the high quality of life? Would Watford then become an urban slum? What then?

Well then I suppose we’ll decide that Watford has a shortage of decent properties, there aren’t enough jobs to support a decent wage, meaning more people are on social housing lists, and we’ll have to build more houses… which seems awfully familiar.

If it were the case that Watford is in this position now, what should be done to avoid the circular path laid out above?

Let’s go back to the statements, because there are a few important unknowns here: “Private landlords are charging high rents due to shortage of decent properties”.

    1. Are there sufficient properties, just not in a decent state?
    2. Or are there still insufficient properties? And if so, what’s the short-fall?
  1. We must be able to say that Watford is ‘full-up’ because there comes a time when it’s so full that it can no longer be defined as Watford; or that the sewers are overflowing. What is the local carrying capacity? Is there budgeted infrastructural development to carry a greater population? What is the maximum viable population for all projected years?
  2. What infrastructure other than housing is required to support a quality of life?

Perhaps you might be able to answer these before making any decisions, and so that we can publicly continue this dialogue?

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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