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The Government Gamble with Garden Cities

The Government Gamble with Garden Cities

It’s no secret that there is a serious housing problem for first-time buyers in the UK. To rent a property you’ll need a guarantor, a huge deposit and, in some cases, you’ll need references from previous landlords too. To buy a house, you’ll need to prove a million and one things, put at least 10% of the value of the house down as an upfront deposit and then you have to pay a great handful of agency fees on top of that. With house prices currently being as high as they are, it seems unlikely that I will ever be able to take out a mortgage on a house and, if I ever do, how will I be able to afford to make the repayments without sacrificing every other cost of living in my life?

Mortgages are great. They allow you to work towards owning a property, rather than pouring money into somebody else’s wallet every month, for a house that will never be yours. But I am not the only student who is worrying about their future living situation. I want a beautiful house with gorgeous green land, a curved gravel driveway and a garage that I can convert into a home gym. Failing that, I just want a cosy two or three bedroom house that I can establish a family in. But even that – the more normal version of a slightly exaggerated dream – seems unattainable.

As a third year student graduating in July this year, the thought of moving back home is one that I dread to think about. I love my family, my two beautiful cats and I love my bedroom at home. But that’s all I get – one bedroom. Plus a whole web of rules to become entangled in at the age of 21 just because, in my mother’s eyes, it’s “my house, my rules.” What does this mean for me? No alcohol. No boys. No coming home late. Moving back home for me is going to be like taking several steps back in time – to approximately about year six.

So what options do we all really have? Most of the people I’ve spoken to about this want to work in London and if you want to work in London, then you either need to move closer to London or commit to a commute that will dwindle away some of the most precious hours of your day. Plus if you’re looking to rent in London, then you’re probably going to be eating air for breakfast, lunch and dinner; because house prices are so extortionate that a two bedroom flat will cost you more than double the price of a detached four bedroom house in a quiet suburb elsewhere in the UK.

But still, we are being told not to worry, because a considerable amount of “Garden Cities” are now being built across the UK in an attempt to end this horrible housing crisis. Between 1,500 and 10,000 homes will be built outside existing settlement areas, with up to 14 new villages planned to accommodate the influx of new homes. Some of the main areas include Essex, Lancaster, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Cornwall. Garden Cities are supposed to be areas that enable you to live, work and set up a family all within one place. They should include things like a GP surgery, a supermarket and schools within the newly built community so that you don’t have to make your way out of the Garden City to acquire the things you need. The plan is to build attractive communities that will hopefully pull in a lot of first-time buyers.

Now, in my opinion, it’s all well and good building new houses, but that doesn’t mean that the government are going to make it any easier for young people like us to get them. They certainly do sound attractive, there’s no doubting that. But when you consider the fact that these new villages are set to receive £6m in government funding plus a further £1.4m for the inner city infrastructure, then it’s impossible to imagine them being affordable – and that’s what really matters. Former housing minister Grant Shapps expressed the same concerns as I do. He claimed that the term “Garden City” is “just a good name to tag onto a mere housing development rather than somewhere which would be brilliant to live”.

My concern is that the government is glossing over the UK’s housing crisis. It’s not just that there aren’t enough homes, it’s the fact that the homes which are available are far too expensive. If our parents could buy our houses for half the price we have to pay now, then something has gone horribly wrong. Certainly, the economy has to adapt, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t bring new issues with it and this is a big one. The Garden Cities plan may just be an attractive projection of something that we still can’t afford – even though they are being marketed as homes specifically for us. If the prices are too high and students like us are still denied access to good quality housing, then Garden Cities are not going to do either of us any good.

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