Lucrative economics prize aims to ease UK housing crunch

By Joshua Franklin

LONDON (Reuters) - Organizers of one of the world's most lucrative economics prizes on Thursday challenged anyone from economists to urban planners to come up with the best design for a new garden city to alleviate Britain's housing shortage.

The second Wolfson Economics Prize will be awarded next September to the plan judged the most visionary, economically viable and popular, and a possible longterm solution for the nation's housing crunch.

The 250,000-pound ($398,000) award is the second most valuable economics prize after the Nobel.

The contest is managed by the center-right Policy Exchange think tank and was founded by retailer Simon Wolfson, chief executive of British clothing chain Next <NXT.L> and a Conservative peer in the upper house of parliament.

"Garden cities provide a potential answer to the housing crisis in the UK. I want to challenge people to design a new city which is a credit to our age - architecturally inspiring, practical and desirable," he said in a statement.

A survey on Tuesday suggested the government's Help to Buy scheme had contributed to housing prices hitting an 11-year high. But with demand outpacing supply, there are concerns that the policy is inflating a housing bubble. (ID:nL9E8E504O)

Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said new garden cities would be a boon to supply.

"Our housing shortage has been decades in the making, and is now so severe it will take innovation and creative thinking to tackle," he said in a statement.

"Britain desperately needs to build affordable homes and garden cities have proved to be a really successful way to create popular, cost effective and pleasant new communities where people want to live and raise their families."

A panel of five housing experts, chaired by Trevor Osborne who is chief executive of The Trevor Osborne Property Group, will decide on the winner.

In 2012, the inaugural Wolfson Economics Prize was awarded to UK-based consultancy Capital Economics for coming up with a blueprint on how a euro zone country could leave the single currency in the least disruptive way.

"I think the most important thing (2012's award) did was to create a body of work that will be incredibly valuable if the euro ever does, in one way or another, break up," Wolfson told Reuters.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)