Here’s something that might surprise you.
We use as much land for golf courses in England as we do for homes.
There are around 2000 full sized golf courses in England (141 in Surrey alone), with hundreds more smaller courses and driving ranges, according to Colin Wiles on the Inside Housing blog. He calculates that the overall footprint of just the full sized courses is 150,000 hectares or 1.1% of England’s 13.4m hectares. According to a comprehensive government assessment in 2011, that’s the same amount of land in England used for homes.*
Google maps and “golf course”
Colin argues that when you add in smaller courses and driving ranges, the full ‘golf footprint’ is more than twice as large as the space used for homes.
When we are suffering from a major housing shortage – a deficit which is growing by over 100,000 homes each and every year – you would have thought that it would be better known that we use just as much land for golf.
However there is still a view from some that the country is ‘full’ and there is no possibility of solving the housing shortage. In fairness, this is probably because most of us spend most of our time on the small percentage of land that is built upon. Perception trumps reality. However, when we are able to allocate so much land to hitting a small white ball into a hole, you’d have thought we could also allocate enough of it for the next generation to have a home of their own.
This is not to say we need to build over any golf course in the country, or have anything against golf. Just that we could find the land for homes if we really wanted to. With 80,000 children homeless this Christmas in Britain, this is a debate that needs to happen.
We must recognise the need for more homes as well as the need for amenities, infrastructure, the protection of natural beauty – and golf courses.
We urgently need to start thinking about how more land could be made available for home building in areas with growth and jobs, and about how to capture the uplift in the value of that land when it is allocated for homes in order to pay for infrastructure. Land supply is absolutely crucial to the debate on housing, and better ways of ensuring that there are places to build homes must be on the agenda for reform.
An excellent Joseph Rowntree funded study earlier in the year set out some of the ways other countries manage to bring new land for homes into the system in a way that ensure the homes are affordable and infrastructure is provided. Along with KPMG and others, we are now looking at ways in which this might work in England.
Golf is not the answer to the housing shortage, but it does show that we shouldn’t despair. There is space to house the next generation, let’s get on with it.
*Data on homes is from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment by Defra. Around 10% of land in England is classified as urban, but the majority of this is gardens, parks, roads, lakes and rivers. 2.27% of land in England is built upon while 1.1% is domestic buildings.
For golf, Colin uses the figure of 2,700 courses in the UK scaled to England. The average size of playing area is 30-40 hectares with the average full size of a course (including space between fairways) adding another 30-40 hectares. Colin therefore assumes 75 hectares per course multiplied by 2000 courses which is 150,000 ha, or 1.1% of England’s 13.4m hectares.