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House rules: the challenge of easing the pricing crisis

Finally, the housing situation in this country is being called what it is: a crisis. Nationwide Building Society figures, out this week, put the average price of a property in London at £200,000 - far beyond most workers, who would have to have a salary of more than £60,000 a year to afford a five per cent deposit and a mortgage of three times that figure. Prices nationally have hit a £106,000 average, almost a fifth higher than their levels just 12 months ago. And prices, we are told, are set to rise by 20 per cent more this year in the capital,18 per cent beyond.

The time-bomb disparity between supply and demand - the main reason for the steep prices - is deeply worrying, with fewer homes built in Britain last year than at any time since 1950. Something, somewhere, has to give. So how will the government and its construction industry - architects, housebuilders, developers - respond? The answer from government appears at least to be coming from the top man with the purse strings, chancellor Gordon Brown.

We will, we hear, be getting a comprehensive spending review which acknowledges the problem, planning restrictions will be 'eased', and money will be found for deputy prime minister John Prescott to push through a doubling of the number of new houses to be built in the South East. Supply will be bolstered to meet demand.But why own at all? Is it not odd that in this country, as opposed to say, Holland, owning your own property is a must? Renting is viewed as 'money down the drain'since it is not 'an investment', although it is also about paying for flexibility and freedom. Brown's answer will be to channel extra cash to housing associations for new rented properties, thereby also boosting so-called 'affordable'housing numbers.

But it is important that the mindset of the Englishman's home as his castle must change.We may get used, once more, to high density living.And the ticky-tacky Brookside homes referred to by CABE chief Jon Rouse in a speech at the RIBA's Housing Design Awards last week might begin to subside from the public consciousness. If, that is, the professions mobilise to take on the challenges, defuse the time bomb, and meet the demand.

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