There is a famous saying “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ass of you and me.” Today there seems to be an assumption that the near future will look the same as the recent past. Electric vehicles will simply replace petrol and diesel ones and life will carry on as before. It is an assumption that is about to make an ass out of all of us. If nothing else the last 15 months of living with Covid-19 has shown us how quickly things can change when it’s necessary.
Current UK housing assumes car ownership. Today to own or occupy a house you need to own or have access to a car. This is especially true as our ever-spreading sprawling housing estates move us ever more distant from the facilities we need for everyday life. This is an assumption that does not stand up to examination because three things are now driving change that will see car ownership plummet and with it the desirability of estate and rural living.
1. Our Ageing Population
The Office of National Statistics estimates that over the next 50 years another 12.5m people will be over 65. This will reduce the number of drivers / car owners
UK housing is simply not suitable to grow old in. The UK has some of the smallest homes in the world. There is no room to fall or live with a wheelchair. As more boomers consider downsizing they will come to the conclusion that the new houses on offer isn’t a viable option for an ageing population. Consider how that small compact en-suite becomes a death trap as you move into old age or become in-firmed. The next time you sit on the toilet ask yourself “if you collapsed could someone get into to help you?”. Could a carer help you? The answer is invariably No. Inward opening doors will kill you. Check out if installing a stair lift is a viable option to delay your incarceration in the prison of your children’s choice.
2. Climate Change
Decarbonisation of the economy will reduce car ownership because
The end of new petrol and diesel cars (2030) will see demand for fuel decline. This decline will cause the cost of fuel to go up as refining of hydrocarbons needs volume to be profitable. Availability will go down as multiple fuel stations have insufficient throughput to survive; many are already more convenience store than petrol station. It will simple become too expensive to run the last traditional car that will probably have all but disappeared from our roads by 2045. The average lifespan of a UK car is 15 years.
We have all seen that new EV’s aren’t cheap. The battery is the expensive bit and at present lasts about 10 years (no doubt they will last longer as technology improves). Today a ten or even a fifteen year old car provides an economic and viable transport option for many people. In the future that affordable option will not exist as the cost of replacing the EV’s battery is almost the same as a new car. Low-income households running multiple older cars will simple not be able to afford to rely on the continuing availability of a steady stream of affordable used cars. Transport poverty will now drive the choice of homes we buy.
3. AI technologies
In the coming decade(s) AI technologies will take many of the jobs of those of working age. Autonomous trucks don’t just replace drivers but reduce the number of trucks by around 40% as they will now run 24 a day and not on the drivers legal hours. These trucks don’t need truck stops for food and rest. All those support jobs will go. Similar job loses can be expected in the legal, medical and construction industries. The resulting drop in household and UK PLC incomes as well as fewer commuters as people increasingly work from home we will see car ownership and the number of new cars decline significantly.
Self-driving AI cars that can be rented by the hour will provide a halfway house between car and no car. Call the car and it will turn up and take you to your destination. It’s a Pay as you Go solution and when compared to the annual cost of around £5k to run a small car you can do a lot of trips for £5K. Car ownership will plummet
There is no doubt that climate change, demographics and technology will bring to an end the traditional British housing estate not because people won’t want them. As a viable living space they will simply be increasingly socially and economically unaffordable.
There is a tipping point coming where multiple elements of our society will find themselves living in the wrong place, the wrong house and without accessible affordable transport. Too far from a bus route. Too old to drive and personal cars too expensive with the limited disposable income we will be left with few uncomfortable options;
Own the sort of EV’s that dominates China, a car little bigger than a large mobility scooter.
Live in increasing isolation where leaving the house becomes an increasing rare treat. Only Amazon and your food delivery company will know you are alive. You house will have become unsalable as all those groups with transport poverty realise that your private house is just not worth it.
Or find a solution
The UK is addicted to low rise housing and has demonised apartments whist accepting ever smaller houses. It’s no different than chocolate bars where the price remains constant but the product continues to get smaller. Admitting the situation is the first stage of recovery to any addiction. Shrinking houses have barely improved in 40 years. In comparison simply look at a 40 year old car and today’s offer from a car manufacturer. The difference is stark, not so UK housing.
Recognising the inadequacy of the UK housing offer and understanding the new drivers is the first stage of delivering the change needed to meet the challenges we face.
Affordability will no longer be just about the cost of the house and most other costs being equal but the cost of living at your address will be impacted by transport costs. We will find that the proximity to a fixed bus route, safe cycleway or simply being within walking distance of frequent destinations that negates the need for a car will become the key selection criteria.
People need to retain more of their disposable income. Increasing disposal income will improve our desperate high streets and let us lead better lives.
Houses compared to apartments and flats are inefficient energy wise. Developers don’t even offer a solar system to heat a daily tank of water.
UK housing is too small for an anyone other than the smallest household unit. We need to increase the size of apartment and balconies where the benefits of single level living can allow people to live safely and independently longer.
The assumption that home owners are also car owners will go. The reality is that we need to be with a mile or so from towns and shops. The ability to walk, cycle or indeed use a mobility scooter offers the least cost solution and greater disposable income and ultimately a better quality of life.
It’s now time to stop building out and start building up.
It doesn’t have to be sky scraper but it does need
1) a lift to allow the elderly and young families with young children to use the upper floors
2) a large balcony where its possible to sit , grow plants and entertain.
3) to be of a decent size where a couple who use wheel chairs can function with dignity.