In 2001 there were 76,485 dwellings in Bournemouth. By 2003 this had risen to 76,798. An extra 313 houses or apartments in a town bounded in the south by the sea, in the north by the River Stour, in the east by the town of Christchurch and in the west by the town of Poole. The conurbation has been increasing for many years, but that has been mainly by building in Poole which has heathland to the west, or in the northern towns of Ferndown and West Moors which are new towns built of heathland. Exactly where in Bournemouth have they found space to build?
Worse was to come. In 2006 there were 86,138 dwellings in Bournemouth. Another 10,000! How could this town with its confined borders accommodate another 20,000 people?
The answer has to build on what the government calls 'brownfield sites'. What they mean is that they have pulled down old buildings and built on the same site.
This policy has some merit, especially in the north of England. The industrial revolution came early to England. The old industries of textiles, steel and coal-mining have migrated to areas of the world where labor is cheap and unregulated. There are some fine Victorian buildings that can be converted to interesting and well-built dwellings and there are deserted slums that can be pulled down and replaced by houses that people will want to live in. Bournemouth was never an industrial town. I know of one disused bakery that has been pulled down after being derelict for ten years or more, but what are being interpreted as 'brownfield sites' are people's gardens. Fine family homes are being demolished and turned into apartment blocks of up to 14 dwellings. The larger footprint is being accommodated on what used to be the garden. The green lung is being covered in concrete. The water absorbing soil is being covered with impervious run offs that overload the drains and cause flooding.
A house that cost £25,000 30 years ago sells today for £400,000. It is pulled down and replaced by 14 apartments each selling for £200,000. Someone makes a fine profit. Except that these apartments are a glut on the market.
One of Gordon Brown's first acts as prime minister has been to abolish England's regional assemblies - the final local planning authorities. These were put in place to address an electoral deficit. The European Union has attempted to solve the problem of large and small nations having different amounts of influence by breaking large nations into small regions. In the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all small nations, have been given a degree of autonomy. However, England, a large nation, has all its political decisions made by the UK parliament not an english one. There has been a call for an English parliament to sort out the unfairness of having Scottish MPs decide English matters. The Labor Government are unwilling to concede this since it would mean that England would almost always be governed by the Conservative Party. Hence the Regional Assemblies, an attempt to create a number of small English 'nations'. Unfortunately for New Labor when a referendum was held to give these assemblies electoral validity - to make them elected rather than appointed bodies - the notion was heavily defeated in the North East, the one region where they were certain of support. Elected Assemblies were abandoned, but even appointed Assemblies opposed the idea of more houses. So they have gone too.
There is an electoral deficit in the UK. Will nothing stop the unregulated immigration that is the real cause of the need to build? Perhaps the rain will.