A standard trope in the current arguments about planning permission is that we don’t need or want to build on green belt land, or even unproductive agricultural land, because there’s so much brownfield land lying around and available. Well, yes, this could be true but why would we want to poison people by sticking houses ontocontaminated land?

Hundreds of homeowners have been told their £400,000 properties could have been built on ‘contaminated’ land – and it’s not safe for their children to play in the area. Environment officers at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have warned residents of three streets in Paddock Wood, Kent, they may be at risk. They say ‘potentially dangerous’ chemicals including asbestos and creosote could have seeped in to the ground. The substances could have ‘an impact on human health’, they added.

This is land that used to be a timber treatment works. And a great deal of such brownfield land lying around the place is contaminated with one thing or another that we now think isn’t all that wise to have lying around in a garden.

Fortunately, we do have a solution to this sort of problem. It involves that complex thing called “price”. Along with the mystifying to many interactions of “markets”.

We could, for example, have a rational and sensible system of planning to allow low density building where people actually want to live, as we outlined in Land Economy. There would then be that magical “price” stuff happening. Brownfield land that was, by virtue of location or ease of cleaning up, worth more than more rural land for building upon would get built upon. That which is not worth more than the costs of clean up would not. And so, by that miracle of “markets” we would be creating the most value possible by creating that valuable housing at the least cost. And, of course, the synonym for “creating the most value” is “making us all richer”.

Plus we’d avoid the possibility of poisoning an entire generation of children by insisting that they live in houses built on polluted land.

Amazing what markets unconstrained by ridiculous regulation can achieve really.