Crowded cities are bulging at the seams, but suburbs want to remain suburban, villages want to remain villagey, and rural areas argue that, if you tamper with them, they stop being rural. In a nation with a rich pastoral tradition and limited land, it is a compelling argument.
The National House Builders Federation (NHBF) takes that 4.4 million statistic with a pinch of salt. "It represents households, not homes," says David Mote, director of marketing communications. "The starting point in time was 1991, so it covers a 25-year period backdated seven years."
In addition, the NHBF calculates that, even at 4 million plus, "we need to build up to about 200,000 private and social houses each year in England, or up to 2 million for each of the new decades".
Mr Mote says: "Compared with 3.5 million homes built in the 1960s and 5 million over the next two decades, the scale of the increase is not particularly dramatic."
Some day Britain will run out of land. And some day the sun will burn itself out. The former will occur a few hundred million years before the latter, but, if you must stock up on tinned food, do it for the year 2000 computer bug, not because the end is nigh. The millennium is upon us, not Armageddon.
Regardless of long-term scenarios, developers always have to contend with limited land, and new developments are now rising in unusual places, in all price brackets. Knight Frank is handling the huge, redundant Cattle Market in Banbury, which, if it receives planning permission, can mean the release of 21.5 acres in that economically buoyant part of Oxfordshire.
In a different part of the world, economically as well as geographically, Galliard Homes has bought Ministry of Defence living quarters and spruced them up into private homes: 83 in Gwelmeneth, Cornwall, and 152 in Alver Park, Gosport.
MoD quarters tend to be object lessons in how not to landscape residential estates, but Galliard planted some trees and cut some grass and, earlier this summer, sold the entire Alver Park development in a single weekend. "I won't be modest," says project director Nick Tucker-Brown, "it was the most successful property sales launch this country has ever seen." The Cornwall site also sold briskly.
Mr Tucker-Brown admits: "We clearly could have sold them at a higher price, but then it may not have attracted such an incredible response." The one-fell-swoop marketing approach benefits developer and buyer alike. The developer pares the marketing budget by squeezing the effort into a short burst, which saves money over the long term and helps restrain the already modest house prices. By piling 'em high and selling 'em cheap, the developer gets the cash flow flowing, and people of limited means get freehold houses.
A waterfront conversion in Barry, south Glamorgan, has the potential to transform this entire Welsh city. A 125-acre site in the derelict docks will be the setting for a mixed-use rejuvenation project including homes, leisure and retail. Part of this land served as a graveyard for old locomotives, many of which ended up in museums across the land. But before they made their final journeys, these quaint coal-burning locomotives leached oil and asbestos into the Barry soil.
Builders are not allowed to build until suspected contaminated land is inspected and appropriately dealt with. Contaminated soil must be removed and replaced with imported clean-fill.
First off the mark is Barratt, building apartments, houses and townhouses with first-phase occupancy scheduled to begin in December. Prices range from just under pounds 40,000 to pounds 100,000. Barratt are also building harbourside homes in nearby Cardiff Bay and, like that massive undertaking, Barry docks promises to have luxury modern buildings offering waterside views from homes built on pristine land.
The Barry project, which is a joint initiative between Associated British Ports and the Welsh Development Agency, is expected to take upwards of five years to complete. It is ideally located to improve Barry's status as a dormitory town for Cardiff.
Site remediation will also be required at Allerton Bywater, the former colliery village east of Leeds in the Aire Valley that is being promoted in a competition by English Partnerships, the Government's regeneration agency.
The colliery and British Coal regional offices closed in 1992. English Partnerships acquired 60 acres and is inviting proposals for a mixed-use development that will feature new residential units designed to be in keeping with the current village and surrounding countryside. The homes must also be energy-efficient, and the overall community must mesh ecologically with the surrounding countryside. This will be a closely watched project, and the futures of many declining English coalfield villages may depend on its success.
Even as Roman bricks and walls are proudly preserved, much newer history literally falls by the wayside. How many people, seeing the new riverside homes and nature reserve in Barnes, west London, will recall the four handsome reservoirs that were the previous occupiers only a few years ago?
Other familiar London landscapes are similarly vanishing. St James is building 300 homes on water filter beds at Long Ditton, Surrey. Berkeley is converting the Thames Water art deco water-testing laboratory in Islington, north London, into 41 apartments and duplex penthouses. Berkeley is also building St Dunstan's Gate, at Canterbury West Station, Kent, where flats and houses will rise on former railway sidings.
Railway sidings! When push comes to shove, nothing is sacred.
Barratt 01446 745840; Berkeley (for North London) 0171-837 5226, (for Canterbury) 0l227 458474; Galliard 018l-508 8881; Knight Frank 0171-824 8171; St James 0l8l 755 2345Reuse content