Amol Rajan: We are on the verge of a great migration from cities
Tuesday 08 May 2012
Lovely, lush, liveable Lincolnshire, in which I spent a chunk of the Bank Holiday weekend, is where I suspect most of my generation will end up. There and other places – Kent, Surrey, Cambridge, Oxford, Buckingham – that are within commuting distance of London, where our jobs will be, but not in the city proper. Hampshire, not Hampstead, will be where we raise families and make homes. That's because soon the only people who will be able to afford homes in London will be Bob Diamond, X-Factor contestants, and the Queen.
Property prices, as regular readers will know, strikes me as clearly one of the great scourges and injustices of our society, never mind a huge source of economic instability. Yesterday I was in a little Lincolnshire hamlet called Osbournby, where a beautiful six-bedroom Yeoman's House with a garden the size of half a football pitch is on sale for around £650K. In London, that could barely get you a 4-bedroom house in Tooting, where I grew up; if it did, the garden would be too small to play cricket in, the key determinant of a garden's merit.
Not far from Osbournby there are fine state schools, and what with Grantham being 20 minutes drive away, and trains getting into London in an hour from there, the commute is certainly bearable. In London, state schools are terrifyingly over-subscribed, crime is much higher, and space is at a much greater premium.
That is why we are on the verge of a great migration. A few years ago a much misinterpreted report by Policy Exchange, a think tank, noted that many northern cities that were former industrial heartlands have lost their raison'd'etre. Our best hope, the report argued, was to invest heavily in the satellite towns around major cities, and encourage people and businesses to move there.
Simply abandoning the former industrial towns decimated by globalisation would be cruel and ineffective; but it does seem to me that for a vast proportion of the professional classes, life in the capital is so intolerably expensive that following the Policy Exchange formula is a necessity. A suburban flourishing would then take place, with satellite towns growing at a dizzying pace.
Of course the professional classes have always commuted in; but London house prices are so high that they will soon have to do so from much further out.
As a result, the average age in our cities will become lower, as older home-owners head for the hills, and young workers and recent migrants live five to a flat in the inner city. Lincolnshire, which admittedly has few hills, is ripe for an influx of pinched families, but don't tell the locals.
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