UK houses: Why Romney was partly correct.

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In People & Media

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party candidate for the US Presidential election talked himself into trouble during his recent visit to the UK. He suggested that the preparations for the Olympics weren’t going to plan, to quote:

“There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the   supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials thatobviously is not something which is encouraging.”

Senior British politicians were well able to handle these unfortunate comments. David Cameron in particular judged the public mood correctly with his response. But Romney has form in criticising the British. Indeed The Economist magazine pointed out that previously Romney nailed his colours firmly to the mast with this undiplomatic observation:

“England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.”

See full article in The Economist here.

The first part of his insult confuses the island of Britain with England.

Small houses. However he is correct about the size of houses in England and the UK, they are very small compared to their peers in Europe and the rest of the World. According to ‘Unaffordable Housing: Fables and Myths’ by Evans and Hartwich, the UK has the smallest house size by area of those they compared, see table below.

House size international comparison
House size international comparison, click to enlarge

The average floor area of a house in the UK is nearly 3 times smaller than the average house in Australia. It’s hard to be sure what the reason for this is, as for example Holland is more densely populated than the UK but still manages to build larger houses. My own guess is that the strict planning laws in the UK mean that development land is at a premium which results in expensive land prices. This in turn forces builders to reduce the size of houses so that they can fit more properties into a given site and still be affordable for buyers. However the strict planning laws have benefits, I am always surprised whenever I visit the UK to observe the vast amount of unspoilt countryside.

But more seriously Mitt Romney seems to confuse bigger with better. China is now overtaking the US to become the biggest consumer of the Worlds resources by virtually all meaningful measurements. It will also potentially have the biggest economy in the World within the next 5 years. If that happens I am sure that Romney will suddenly be emphasising that quality and not size counts.

Benefits of small. Smaller houses have merit. Which include less cleaning, cheaper maintenance costs, lower fuel bills and perhaps less temptation to buy stuff which will simply clutter the house up. It is also easier to serve smaller and denser cities with public transport systems. If we are really serious about the environment and solving climate change we will have to change our outlook and remember bigger is not better, especially not for the future of our planet.



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