Both our politicians and the media have been stressing lately about the over-cooking of the economy in the south-east of England. While London and its environs are in the fast lane to prosperity, much of the rest of England is stuck on the hard shoulder, waiting for an AA man.
As a result, house prices in the Home Counties have gone through the roof, assuming you can even find a roof to put them through. How, they ask, can the success of London be rolled out nationally? HS2 is one suggestion. This could mean that we all become the Home Counties, which removes the problem, geographically speaking.
There’s another way.
Back in the 1960s it was the West Midlands economy that was over-cooking. There was full employment, industrial expansion, over-crowding and a housing list as long as your arm.
The solution to the latter was the new towns, places like Redditch, Telford and Tamworth. But how to provide the jobs for those who opted to head to the nice new semis in Shropshire and Worcestershire?
The solution was the IDC – the Industrial Development Certificate. Any firm or factory owner who wished to expand or modernise in the early 1970s had to apply for an IDC from the government.
And the government, as a matter of centralised policy making, refused such IDCs in the industrial West Mids. They were granted only if the firm was willing to move out, say to Telford or Redditch.
Hey presto! At a stroke, a lid was put on the economy of Birmingham and the Black Country, and the gas was turned off. By the end of the decade some 80,000 jobs had been exported from the local economy, a blow, from which, one could argue, the West Midlands never fully recovered.
There’s your solution, then. Resurrect the IDC, and slap it on London and its over-crowded, over-priced hinterland. If IDC2, is half as successful as it was in the 70s, then London’s forward momentum could be checked and dispersed overnight.
Ah, the halcyon days of central planning.
The folk of Richmond and Virginia Water would love Oldbury, if only they’d give it a try.
* Dr Chris Upton is Reader in Public History at Newman University Birmingham