Home   Kent   News   Article

Kent homes being bought by people from London but what are the long-term impacts?

More news, no ads


Economic forecaster and university professor Richard Scase examines the ongoing and long-term effects of increasing numbers of people from the capital snapping up homes in Kent...

For almost a century the countryside in west Kent has been invaded by housing developments driven by a booming London economy. The pandemic has now extended this process to the rest of the county.

More and more homes on new housing developments in Kent are being bought by "affluent’’ Londoners
More and more homes on new housing developments in Kent are being bought by "affluent’’ Londoners

People in small towns and villages in the rural areas are now terrified of being swamped by huge housing projects. In reality they are often unimaginative estates, but normally marketed by their developers as garden villages.

It is an appeal to a lifestyle based on a rustic past that bears no relation to present-day reality. Such is the powerful impact of nostalgia.

These fears have generated a surge of anti-development protest groups which take to the streets and bypass the usual local council consultation processes. They have no trust in their local political leaders representing their interests. Indeed, often their appeal is to national government since it is Westminster that imposes local housing targets that make it difficult for local district councillors to resist development schemes.

Would the abolition of the present two-tier local government structure of Kent, consisting of a county council and several district councils, make any difference? To be replaced by three or four unitary authorities? Would they be able to bargain more forcefully with central government than the present small, under-resourced district councils? Enabling them to resist the imposition of housing targets that are way beyond the capabilities of local infrastructures to cope with the pressures of population growth upon transport, health, education, and social care, to say nothing of water and sewerage systems?

If national government is serious about national ‘levelling up’, many of the pressures on housing demand in Kent would be reduced. There would be the imposition of stringent controls on housing developments and a shift of incentives to encourage developers to build in the deprived and brownfield sites of the north of England. This would help to rebalance the present uneven geographical spread of the national population that is becoming even more skewed to the south east.

Richard Scase is Emeritus Professor at the University of Kent
Richard Scase is Emeritus Professor at the University of Kent

At the very least, and as far as Kent is concerned and assuming the existence of the present two-tier local government structure, there is no reason there shouldn’t be a moratorium on future housing growth unless certain principles are met.

These would include a more rigorous assessment of the impact of housing growth on the natural environment and its biodiversity; that all homes are zero-carbon; and the design of housing estates be forced to incorporate ‘realistic’ forms of alternative means of transport to private vehicles.

The offer by developers of electric bikes or scooters to residents on these estates is a ‘sop’ to gullible councillors to gain planning permission. Will residents really cycle into offices and bike with their children to schools on wet, windy, cold winter days? Particularly when the car is so firmly entrenched in British culture?

Developers of estates above a certain size should be compelled to subsidise frequent and reliable minibus services available on demand, as in Oxford and other places. Dedicated pod routes to town centres should be incorporated into housing estate design. The width and foundations required for these is no more than those needed for cycle tracks. These could operate on a continuous loop, as is the case today between car parks and terminals at many international airports.

What is needed for such innovations is imagination, creativity, and out-of-the box solutions. But these are not enough. It requires national government and local authorities to impose tough requirements upon developers. They will cry wolf, but they will accept them.

'Young people unable to buy in, say, Canterbury, are forced to buy homes in Margate or Dover, where house prices are much lower...'

But do local councillors and the two-tier structure of local government allow this to happen? District councils are too small and under-resourced to employ top quality creative staff. With some exceptions they attract young recruits on a career pathway or older staff looking forward to retirement. Equally, are there sufficient local councillors with the imagination and the strategic foresight to insist on 21st century quality of life solutions?

All these factors allow the highly-trained, highly paid, and talented staff of property developers to be more skilful negotiators in getting their development plans accepted or, at worst, slightly amended. But of course, district councils need the money that is raised by more houses and so will be inclined to support developers’ specifications.

If these are the reality of present housing planning policies, and as these will shape the future demographic and environmental features of Kent, what are likely to be the tangible outcomes for our quality of life?

A major problem will be an increase in the lack of affordable homes in the eastern part of the county. Today, house prices are roughly nine times average earnings. Traditionally, they were about three-and-a-half times.

An average house price is about £360,000, with earnings around £40,000. This is why so many couples cannot afford to have children until they are in their 30s when, hopefully, their household earnings will be higher. For a growing number of household units, it is impossible for there to be a single earner. The inability to raise deposits for many young couples means they are forced into the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the private rental sector. This makes matters worse since it becomes even more difficult for them to save for a deposit.

'Aylesham Garden Village' is how a 1,200-home scheme in east Kent has been marketed. Picture: Barratt Homes
'Aylesham Garden Village' is how a 1,200-home scheme in east Kent has been marketed. Picture: Barratt Homes

Social class kicks in here. Young sons and daughters of wealthier parents are often able to borrow from their parents or receive an ‘advance’ payment from their parents’ inheritance. This is not the case for those with parents that have no savings, because of low pay and high living costs.

The shift to the greener stretches of Kent will only continue in the future. The pandemic has reduced the need for 9-5, five-days-a-week working. The need to live in London is much reduced. Commuting from longer distances becomes acceptable if it is only for two or three days a week. The attractions of moving to the more remote parts of Kent become compelling if it means moving from London with a hefty profit from a house sale.

But there is a price that has to be paid, and it is by local young people and their housing needs. The number of ‘affluent’ workers moving from London puts home ownership out of their reach. It means a life of rented accommodation or relocation from one town or community to another because of the availability of cheaper housing.

This is creating a ‘levelling up’ process for the Kentish seaside towns. Young people unable to buy in, say, Canterbury, are forced to buy homes in Margate or Dover, where house prices are much lower. But this is not as easy as it sounds. Added costs are incurred through the need for longer journeys to work; house moves do not create jobs moves. Families with children get their education disrupted through changing schools.

Perhaps importantly, house moves of this kind remove young couples with their children from their family support systems. For example, the inability to keep an eye on elderly parents or the absence of grandparents available to collect children from schools. This is often vital if ‘Mum’ is to have a job that is crucial for supporting the family economy. If any of these delicate connections are destroyed, problems are created, often leading to stress and family breakdown, with the state having to pick up the costs and the pieces.

In short, the ‘colonisation’ of the outer or remoter reaches of Kent by more affluent London families has enormous knock-on effects. It is not simply how this threatens the natural environment and local eco-systems but also the sociological fabric of towns, communities, and villages. More often than not it seems planning inspectors and local councillors and officials underestimate these repercussions, particularly when they approve the construction of mega-large housing estates - oops, I mean garden villages - in the beautiful Kentish countryside.

Richard Scase is Emeritus professor at the university of Kent and holds visiting professorships at others. He lectures around the world on major economic, social, and technological trends likely to affect our futures.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More