Pennington goes on to say this gross misperception extends into a belief, widespread among his countrymen, that the latter 20th century was a period of radical deregulation of land use, which he shows to be the opposite of the truth.
In merry old England the environmentalists have succeeded in creating around every city large swaths of land called "Green Belts" where most forms of development are forbidden. The "Green Belts" now cover 14% of England's land area. These wide belts of land, far from being cites of particular beauty, contain "disused gravel pits, quarries, railway and motorway embankments, and low grade farmland". In addition to the "Green Belts" the British government has also created "Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty". In both the Green Belts, and in the AONBs, "between 90 and 100 per cent of all development applications are refused."
Not too surprisingly:
"The principal effect of such restrictions has been the inexorable rise in the price of housing land and hence house prices brought about by the increased scarcity of supply."
This results not just in a dearth of affordable housing, which Pennington merely skips over, but also in high retail prices "the so-called 'rip-off Britain' syndrome". Because of protests from the anti-development mob big box stores like Wal-Mart and major grocery retailers, have had a very hard time placing buildings on the outskirts of large cities and towns. Pennington quotes studies showing how the greatest source of price differentials between Britain and France is the relative lack of retail outlets in Britain. The same restrictions have suppressed hotel construction. Half the hotels in the UK are over 100 years old compared to 14% for France.
It is only on the issue of 'rip off Britain' does Pennington discuss "the use of the planning system for collusive purposes". By this we mean the obvious - those who own British commercial real estate do not want to see Wal-Marts and Holiday Inns mushrooming over Britannia as this would quickly thin their profit margins. Pennington goes onto say "such rent-seeking behaviour within the (land-use) planning system should not be underestimated". No kidding!
I've come to view the international environmental movement as a sort of cartel for land barons. Clearly, it would not be good public relations for this revamped 'king'n church' mob to carry banners praising high rent and homelessness. Rather, they are out to save the sensitive areas of an endangered planet.
But Pennington, being a limey and an ostensible 'conservative', is incapable of pointing a finger at the real culprits i.e. the aristocracy, the Duke of Westminster, Prince Charles, and the Queen etc. As American writer William Turner has quipped the capturing of the word "conservative" by the capitalists was a heist rivalling the Great Train Robbery. Capitalists are always coming up with new products and processes. They are always moving things around and re-organizing themselves. They are still aspiring to greater wealth and prestige. They are not inherently a conservative class rather they tend toward economic liberalism. The same cannot be said of the European aristocracy and their imitators in New England. This latter "landed" section of the ruling class, are the true 'conservatives'.
Pennington wastes the readers' time with various stratagems on how to "bell the cat". His goal is to get the British government to pursue liberal land use policies. This goal is laudable. He wants to place more land on the market and get more construction activity going on so as to lower housing and retail prices etc. He wants the British government to pursue policies directly contrary to the interests of the countries' most influential landlords. He is pessimistic and with good reason.
Pennington throws out facts about how the British have absurdly inaccurate ideas about land use in their homeland but he neglects to spell out how these myths are installed in the public mind only through great effort by the mass media.
This reviewer is a denizen of Western Canada where the land use debate is surrealistic. Substantially less than one per cent of the land here is developed yet, true to colonial form, we are populated with sleepwalkers mimicking the metropolitan phobia about 'urban sprawl'.
On both sides of the pond the objective should be a booming economy. Taking the green jackboot off the break pedal is a pre-requisite to achieving that objective. This will require a protracted cultural battle and a coalition of progressive forces both socialist and libertarian. What we need are more solid facts and less empty baggage. Pennington's Liberating the Land is a great ten-page essay bouncing around in a tattered hundred-page Hayekian suitcase.
By William Kay
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