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History of Housing Policies in the UK and Netherlands Essay

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Over the past recent years, there have been tremendous changes in the UK and Netherlands in an effort to improve the housing situation in the country. A visit to the Netherlands cities of Breda and Jordan, Nieumarkt, and Bijlmermeer has served as an eye opener to the housing policies in the country as well as those in the UK.

This paper will critically discuss approaches to social housing in the UK and Netherlands in order to establish similarities and differences between the two countries. Through the study, the paper shall establish how the social housing scheme seeks to promote sustainable development, and how such organization impacts on the countries’ housing policies.

Since I have lived and studied in the UK for a long time, I am aware of the housing policies in this country. This paper will discuss how these policies facilitate or hamper the people of the UK’s need for affordable and comfortable housing. Most information in this paper was acquired through the internet, lecture notes, and journal articles on social housing policies in the UK.

History of Housing Policies in the UK and Netherlands

A trace back in the English history will lead us to the times of enclosure of common fields, common lands, and wastes. The enclosures left many people from the lower social classes without land from which they could make a living (Itard & Meijer 2008). People had to earn a living from small patches of seasonally available land. Headington Quarry was one such place before it was taken over by the urban development.

The early government allotted every family a garden, from which they could earn a living. Such an arrangement, however, was feared and hated by many. Therefore, people used all means to stay out of it. This involved them being able to make their own living without the government’s assistance.

What this meant was that the who were not assisted by the government lived in some form of anarchy, where they were only accountable to themselves. These villages survived through the 18th to the early 20th centuries.

The social housing scheme for the Netherlands has always been different from that of other countries. In many countries, social housing targets the low income earners.

However, in the Netherlands, social housing is not meant for such people. The scheme targets people who earn high income. A change in the housing policies in the Netherlands will serve to increase the number of poor people seeking housing in the social housing schemes.

Housing Policy Context in the UK and the Netherlands

UK social housing policy is assessed strictly on the need of each individual, for example people with low income or no income are regarded as priority and can benefit from social housing policies.

In the Netherlands, housing policy is based on a very common accessible process that does not promote segregation. Both the working class and those without employment have equal chances of accessing the housing program (Cope 1999).

In the UK, for instance, Milton Keynes, which is a newly developed city, was planned and built with sustainable facilities that attracted a lot of working class people to relocate to Milton Keynes (Mullins & Murie 2006). Biljimermeer, a town in the Netherlands, was planned with no features that could attract working class people.

When it comes to planning permission or carrying out a major building work on a property, there are several legal steps that have to be taken in the UK (Golland & Blake 2004). This sometimes makes it a hassle for people to try and develop or change the way their homes are planned so that they may comply with the set rules.

In the Netherlands, getting a planning permission is not a lengthy process compared to the UK. It could take an average of three months to get your planning permission approved in the UK while it takes less time to get it approved in the Netherlands (King 2006). Comparing the chosen policies in this argument shows clearly the differences between both countries.

Social Housing in UK and the Netherlands

According to Scanlon & Christine (2007), in a number of the countries included in their survey, there is no single formal definition of social housing. It basically relates to ownership. It deals with not-for-profit firms and local authorities, the parties funding their construction, the level of rent that is being charged compared to the market rate, and the purpose of constructing them among others (Oxley & Smith 1996).

These versions are used in different countries and regions. Different countries define social housing differently. Social housing in some countries like Australia and Sweden is accessible to all citizens irrespective of their economic status. In some countries, however, social housing is only available to the group of citizens who cannot manage to finance their housing needs.

Social housing used to be provided by the government to every household in countries such as Austria and Sweden. However, more effort was put to ensure that only those who could not afford decent housing benefited from this arrangement. This happened In countries such as Netherlands and England. The definition above shows similarity between European countries (Oxley 1996).

The difference is noticed in the policies that are carried out and how each country runs its social housing: while in Netherlands 50% of homes are owned by Housing Corporation in Amsterdam (Gruis 2009), 75% of homes in the UK are owned by private investors. (Malpass, 2005). Only 25% are social housing schemes.

The housing stock in the Netherlands is divided into three sectors: social rented, private rented and home ownership. About 46% of the housing stock comprises of rental houses, 35% of the property is owned by the Housing Association, and 19% is owned by private investors.

Amsterdam Eastern Harbor district, located on the other side of Amsterdam, is comparable to that of the London Dockyard. The two cities were previously used as docks. Docks are industrial lands with dreadful conditions and defect. The Eastern harbor district is situated close to the city centre but was not attractive enough according to the people living in Amsterdam.

This is the same problem faced by Docklands. However, both offer the prospect for large scale redevelopment and restoration. The Eastern Harbor District warehouse has now been transformed into social homes.

The London Dockyard, on the other hand, is now the central Business District with all sustainable facilities for expansion such as the Dockland Light Railway and quick link to the city airport. This expansion has led to job creation in the city and has made it headquarter for most financial institutions.

Some areas in the UK are now promoting a greener environment (Graaf 1996). The percentage of areas taking up the Green movement compared to that of the Netherlands is very small. The Dutch is surrounded by canals and green spaces (Dutch social housing, 2005).

There is also a big contrast with the transportation system in both countries. The popular means of transport in the UK include the over ground trains, trams, buses and black taxis (Pattison 2009). These means of transport produce a lot of carbon emission which pollutes the atmosphere and adds to global warming.

Netherlands, on the other hand, encourages a greener transportation system. Transportation like trams is located in almost all the cities. This helps in the reduction of pollution (O’Connell 2007).

The UK has started a bike scheme, which is mainly used in London. Netherlands has a bike scheme in almost all its cities and it is very cost effective. U.K housing promotes part buy part rent for example 30 percent of the property will be mortgage by the tenant and 70 percent will still be rent and also be treated as social housing.

The Netherlands housing is managed by Housing Corporation and private investor, the distribution of their properties are done through advertisement every two weeks in the housing association website and the local newspaper. One has to register and wait for some time.

The old people and those who have never benefited from the scheme are given priority. There are about 550 institutions functioning as a housing association in the Netherlands. There are no rights to buy scheme and there are no discounts if you choose to purchase your home.

There are no cash incentives in the Netherlands. Association debts (Brutering) are paid off by the government in form of building subsidies and this enables the Netherlands housing cooperation to assist people to rent social housing individually. During our trip to Amsterdam we were told the waiting list can be up to eleven years in Belmyer south east Amsterdam.

The Eastern Harbour District was expected to accommodate about 100 units per hectare for 18,000 people whereas this would be considered as too high density development in London. The issue of homeless and rough sleeping is quite visible in the UK but not as visible in Amsterdam, but there are issues in the housing department.

Located in the southern eastern part of Amsterdam is the beautiful city of Bijlmermeer. It was a planned town designed to solve the growing housing shortages in Amsterdam and well known for its high rise buildings in Netherlands and one of the ghettos in Amsterdam city.

Bijlmermer was originally built by the Netherlands government to achieve success but was disliked by people living in Amsterdam because most of the people living there were immigrants, who had benefited from affordable social housing by the government.

It was not long before it became “black” town. Crime and environmental pollution became rampant in this town. The Bijlmermer has been compared to a place called Brixton in Lambert borough in the UK. Brixton is known as an area where criminals, drug users and the socially excluded are found. However, the government is trying to curb the high rate of crime through measures such as police patrols and community policing.

Social Housing and Sustainable Development in the UK and Netherlands

Some of the objectives stipulated by the UK’s housing department are environmental conservation, and equal distribution of natural resources. The department also aims at providing basic needs to the needy citizens and promoting the country’s economic growth.

Of the nearly 5 million homes available in the UK, almost all of them need drastic renovations to upgrade their ability to cope up with sustainable development goals. The country held a meeting in 2011 on ways to improve sustainable development within the housing scheme.

Sustainable development in the UK housing scheme will result from good management of the building sites, using resources efficiently, increase capacity for material recovery, and a reduction in the costs of disposal.

Sustainable development can also be achieved through enacting policies that will reduce incidents of construction, demolition, and carbon emissions from construction sites. Products used in the construction process should be selected with a lot of responsibility and accountability and the concept of biodiversity must prevail.

Water is a vital component in sustainable development. Construction events must make good use of water sources and prevent environmental pollution. This will ensure that natural resources, such as water, are preserved so that the present and future generations can access the same sources. The two countries have enacted policies to ensure that the present constructions have sustainable drainage systems.

This system manages both the surface water and the underground water in an effort to preserve the sources. There are a number of benefits accrued from applying sustainable development strategies in the management of water during construction.

It is true that the UK and the Netherlands have had very few incidents of flooding over the years. This is because of the effective management of ground and surface water. Pollution of diffuse is minimized, and natural sources have been maintained in both countries.

The UK has a Code for Sustainable Development of Homes. This is a standard measure for new homes in the extent to which they lead to sustainable development. Although the code is voluntary to privately owned homes, social housing schemes must adhere to the standards, and attain at least level 3 as a pass mark. The code measures nine features of a home to assess the suitability of the home for sustainable development.

These include energy or the levels of carbon dioxide emissions, water usage and regulation, usage of materials during and after the construction, measures to prevent surface water running and flooding possibilities, disposal of waste, reduction measures for pollution, measures to promote the health and well being of the occupants and neighbors, as well as levels of management of the ecology.

The government of the UK has made provisions to oversee successful implementation of sustainable development in the housing industry. It has policies that govern the provision of decent homes to the citizens. These policies are aimed at helping local planning authorities to enact sustainable planning measures in new homes and in the renovation of existing homes.

The four elements of social inclusion, protection and enhancement of the environment, prudence in the use of natural resources, and economic development are interlinked, and success in one leads to the success in the other (Balchin 1966). Regulated use of natural resources and preservation of the environment is vital towards improving a country’s economic viability.

In order to deal with the problem of scarcity of land, the Netherland’s housing scheme has adopted a policy of mixed land use. Land is developed for residential houses, schools, businesses, recreational facilities, and both public and private development.

This strategy helps to reduce travelling distances as people have easy access to social amenities within the same locality. The strategy also increases the security of the people in the locality as many people interact and crime detection is easier.

This strategy has a number of benefits to sustainable development. The close proximity of the amenities reduces the need for travelling; hence the need for the use of private transport means is reduced. It is these every private transport means that have been identified as the leading causes of pollution and environmental degradation in many developed countries.

In the place of private transport, public means are preferred in such a locality. Public means reduce the amount of carbon emissions. Increased residential densities for such localities reduce the amount of space available for the construction of wide roads and bigger parking spaces.

These make it difficult for private car owners, encouraging a pedestrian community. This is the very strategy that the Netherlands has adopted, where cars have been widely replaced by bicycle users.

Brownfield sites in the UK are lands that have been used for various purposes. These sites are possible sites for redevelopment. Because of the diminishing availability of green lands for new developments, Brownfields have become attractive sites for redevelopment.

The repossession and reuse of Brownfields in the UK and the Netherlands is an important factor in the countries ‘sustainable development. A development of the sites improves the environmental strength of the place, destroying harmful sites such as dumping sites. Such use helps to promote public transport and utilizes already existing communication and energy infrastructure (Boelhouwer 2002).

Besides improving the beauty of the place, Brownfields help the government in saving up costs of acquiring new land for construction. They also save up new land for further development acidities, thus increasing the number of homes that can be built for more people.

The Netherlands has adopted a high ranking car-free development for sustainable transport. The country’s transport councils hold frequent promotions to support cycling and walking by people rather than use cars. This effort has led to the country developing a healthy community. Walking increases chances of interaction, which increases chances of establishing social contact with each other.

Among the strategies put in place by the country to promote a car-free society is a promotion of an entirely or partial car-free environment, controlling car spaces and limiting car parking spaces to discourage cars, many cities limit the entry of cars in some places in some areas to control their effect of pollution, promoting the use of eco-friendly cars.

The UK government and that of the Netherlands have tried their best to develop productive areas in these countries. Local planning authorities in the rural areas work hard to ensure that new housing development and redevelopment are done within the framework of sustainable development.

These measures include the development strategy maximizing on the good qualities of the area and specific features, such as architectural sites (Boelhouwer 2002).

It should be noted at this point that the UK and Netherlands governments have made great strides forward towards achieving affordable social housing for all. In response to the current concerns on the issue of global warming and environmental degradation, the two governments have put consolidated efforts to ensure that the housing schemes meet measures for sustainable development.

However, there are challenges facing this project. Constructing houses to meet the sustainable development criterion requires more planning, complex designs, and could take up more resources than when they are constructed without any plan.

The benefits accrued from sustainable development are much higher than the immediate costs, and these governments have gone past them to implement sustainable development strategies in their national housing policies.


In conclusion, the comparison of social housing of both countries U.K and the Netherland shows they both have common goal in their sustainable development for now and that will not compromise the future as well, even though Netherland have less population than the U.K.

They both countries believe in having sustainable development will reduce poverty and social exclusion. Their housing distribution are similar, only few differences. U.K housing will first consider pregnant women or families with young children; while Netherland give home to starter first that are people coming to rent for the first time, then old people.

The U.K Government should encourage people to spread out by providing social housing, work and a general sustainable community throughout the country not concentrating on London and Milton Keynes alone.

In addition they should protect existing housing stock avoiding slum and abandoned properties and change them to a better accommodation rather than having complete new development and should imitate Netherlands by having mixture of people everywhere. The UK and the Netherlands still remain as the countries with among the best social housing policies among developed countries.

Reference List

Balchin, P 1966, Housing Policy In Europe, Routledge, New York.

Boelhouwer, P 2002, Trends in Dutch Housing Policy and the shifting position of the Social rented sector in Urban studies. Viewed on <>

Cope, H 1999, Housing Associations: The Policy and Practice of Registered Social Landlords, Palgrave MacMillan, Hampshire.

Dutch social housing 2005, “In Nutshell Document Note on Blackboard”, Journal of Housing and The built environment Kluwer Academic Publisher Document on Blackboard, vol. 43 no.5, pp. 345-347.

Golland, A & Blake, R 2004, Housing development: theory, process and practice, Routledge, London.

Gruis, V 2009, Management of Privatized Housing: International Policies & Practice, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

Graaf, P 1996, Out of Place: Emotional Ties to the Neighbourhood in Urban Renewal in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, Amsterdam university press, Amsterdam.

Itard, L & Meijer, F 2008, Towards a Sustainable Northern European Housing Stock: Figures, Facts and Future, IOS Press, Amsterdam.

King, P 2006, Choice and the End of Social Housing, Institute of Economic Affair, London.

Malpass, P 2005, Housing and the Welfare State, Pelgrave, Mcmillan.

Mullins, D & Murie, A 2006, Housing Policy in the U.K, Pelgrave, Macmillan.

O’Connell, C 2007, The state and housing in Ireland: ideology, policy and practice, Nova Science Publishers, Inc., New York.

Oxley, M 1996, Housing Policy and Rented Housing in Europe, E and FN Spon, London.

Oxley, M & Smith, J 1996, Housing policy and rented housing in Europe, E and FN Spon, London.

Pattison, B 2009, Perspectives on the Future of Housing: A Collection of Viewpoints on the UK Housing system, BSHF, Leicestershire.

Scanlon, K & Christine, E 2007, Social Housing in Europe: Now and Tomorrow. In: The Future of Social Housing in Europe, London, LSE.

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