Yet, surprisingly, there are some similarities between the two answers. Firstly, no one knows where author Douglas Adams came up with the number forty-two as his ultimate answer. Similarly, no one can quite put their finger on who it was that came up with the government’s 300,000 new homes target either. It’s very much a political target rather than a scientific one, which means that it was either exaggerated to scare people into allowing more houses to be built or understated to make it easier to hit. A third option, namely that it’s probably just about right, seems unlikely given that it’s a government target (but I’m almost certainly being overly cynical). But the point is, no one knows for sure where the number came from. Another connection between the two answers is that, despite having such a beefy target to aim at, on more than one occasion over the last twenty years, we actually contrived to build a total number of new homes that was closer to Douglas Adams’ figure than the government’s one.
The main problem with the question, ‘How many new homes do we need each year?’ is that it’s rather abstract. It’s much easier to contextualise things like money, for example. £300,000 is a lot of cash, and you can easily relate it to stuff you could buy with it or what life would be like if you suddenly found it sloshing around in your current account. But when it comes to new homes, 300,000 is just a big number with no real reference points. So, let me give you some examples. Wales has around 1.3m households, so we’re looking to add the equivalent of another Wales every four years or so. The city of Leeds has about 350k households, so we’d be building a new Leeds (give or take) every year. Given that Leeds is the UK’s seventh most populous city, you can see that delivering 300,000 new homes a year is no small feat. It’s like adding a small county’s worth of homes annually.