go north, young man

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Estate agents’ glossy leaflets drop through my letterbox daily. ‘For Sale’ signs proliferate on pavements. Transit vans advertising extensions park haphazardly on each and every verge. Tarpaulins shielding the latest loft conversion flap in the breeze. The signs are clear that people are looking for property in my neck-of-the-woods. For those of us lucky enough to own one, the value and quality of life is measured in house prices. Personally, I’ve been on the housing ladder (starting with a Caversham-sited three-bed mid-terrace for £46,000 dontchaknow) for almost forty years but cannot cheer rising prices with any gusto as to do so is to lack awareness and ultimately miss the bigger picture.

Every ladder brings a snake to the property party. Today’s prices are excluding an entire generation from the housing market and ‘normal’ wage earners cannot secure a mortgage in most of our cities and larger towns. Young adults have to live with their parents for longer or cough-up exorbitant rents as the only alternative is to relocate to the places where less well-paid work resides and is reflected in both lower prices and slightly more-affordable rent. A self-defeating process if ever there was one. Furthermore, a purchase these days is as likely to be clothed in ‘investment’ terms as a pension, a hedge to future asset movements and even as a way of funding anticipated social care.

Over the years we, as a society, have spoken of bedroom tax, council tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and stamp duty holidays as the possible ways of levelling things out. But regional discrepancies remain. Until now. Over the past eighteen months, house prices have risen in all areas of Great Britain but by a noticeably larger proportion in our less-populated more far-flung regions. In a recent report, property firm, Savills, predict that the ever-present north-south divide will narrow dramatically and is forecasting rises in the frozen north by as much as 20%. Uh oh.

Like it or not we are all Thatcher’s children. Myself included. The obsession with our castle underpins the entire discourse and emanates directly from her and her policy guru and political mentor, Keith Joseph. Both slavishly believed the idea that property ownership would redistribute both capital and social assets. Oh, and singlehandedly create a tory-voting electorate to boot! With hindsight, we now can see it achieved nothing of the former as there was never enough housing-stock to support ‘right to buy’ in the first place, let alone anytime thereafter. It did however create a generation of Boomers who bought houses for tuppence ‘apenny but talk as if they are some kind of expert trader and market visionary as opposed to conceding we were merely in the right place at the right time.

So, who exactly would cheer this insanity? The childless elderly owner occupier and multiple-buy-to-let investor who’s in perfect health, has no belief in a larger supportive society and keen to sell-up and move north in the blink of an eye. Not many then…