Thursday, August 25, 2011

Protecting Our Countryside

I do not like the ongoing undignified row between Government and organisations concerned with protecting the countryside - suffering 'split loyalties'. Am a longstanding member of the National Trust and until elected MP for Montgomeryshire was President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. Was also Chair of a Local Planning Authority for 7 years in the 1980s. This row concerns disagreement over plans to redesign and simplify national planning policy (in England)- which is undoubtedly needed. But there should be constructive debate. Inevitably there will be disagreement, but there's no need for a shouting match.

Friends, who share my love for the countryside are telling me (as Clive Aslet is doing in today's Telegraph) that the Government's proposal is to "let development rip through those parts of Britain that aren't formally protected as National Parks or part of the Green Belt". They tell me that "we are throwing out of the window the directing of development towards brown field sites". This is unjustified over-the-top language. But Government Ministers have responded by dismissing these concerns as 'selfish nihilism' and my friends as 'left-wingers within the national HQs of pressure groups'. They are no such thing. They are people who care about the countryside, and do not want to see it sacrificed to accommodate rapidly expanding population levels, driven by immigration and family breakdown. Their concerns should be taken seriously.

At root, the problem is too many people. If the population of Britain is allowed to continue to grow as it has been doing, and is doing, some of our cherished countryside is going to disappear under concrete. And its no good forcing our rapidly expanding population into ever more densely populated urban pockets. Recent rioting on the streets has shown us where that leads. Today, we learn that in the last year, net immigration was around a quarter of a million people. This is unsustainable, and will destroy the Britain we know. There is something depressingly pathetic about reducing such an important issue to an exchange of insults. I'm going to have to take more interest in the proposals to change planning regulations, even if they do not apply in Wales.


Anonymous said...

Umm, forgive me if I'm wrong - but didn't Cameron pledge to reduce the numbers of immigrants into Britain? But since he's been in office - the numbers have increased!

Glyn Davies said...

Indeed. It was a clear promise from the Conservatives before the general election. There are two obsevations to make, and you can atribute worth as you see fit. Firstly, the current year's increase in net immigration is wholly down to a big drop in emigration. And secondly, Damian Green is making much of the fact that these figures predate the changes that have been introduced.

the outsider said...

I totally agree that a rapidly expanding population is putting undue pressure on our countryside. I made this point in a collective community response to the Local Development Plan in 2007 and later to the Regional Planning body when the last Labour Government was forcing large housing allocations on Councils and English Regions. Around that time the number of new houses the Government required each year bore an uncanny resemblance to the net inward migration numbers! But the Labour Government argued that we needed more people to grow the economy. Well of course each new working person will contribute towards an 'expanded' economy and so it is technically correct to say the economy grows the more people there are working within it. However that measure of growth ignores per capita Gross Domestic Product and it also ignores quality of life measures.
I think the National Trust deserves to be taken seriously on this issue.

I'm also pleased to see Liam Fox speak out against the behaviour of National Grid who want to expand their network of huge overground pylons regardless of the fact that they will be despoiling some of the most nationally valued countryside. But then nowadays they are a foreign owned enterprise who owe their shareholders a duty to make a profit, but who have no duty to the uk citizens whose landscapes they threaten to ruin.

Charles Turpin said...

Apart from the fact that there are too many people, family breakdown is also a factor, as separation and divorce mean that two rooves become necessary whereas previously one was sufficient. Priority needs to be given to constructing apartment blocks to cater for large numbers of small households.

Sooner or later, we will have to overcome our taboos and tackle the huge waste of space represented by municipal cemeteries. Dispose of the human remains and use the land for housing, thus easing the pressure on the countryside. Other countries have recognised that the needs of the living take priority over the dead; in Switzerland the right to lie in a grave is limited to 25 years, before the remains go in a communal pit.

We also need to draw a distinction between those greenfield sites which can be developed once the brownfield ones really are all used up, and those which cannot. Areas such as the Cambrian Mountains, which on any ordinary use of the English language are areas of outstanding natural beauty, must be officially protected as such, whereas the green belts surrounding cities can be released for housing unless they represent scenic areas in their own right, such as the Surrey Hills and the North Downs for example.

Despite what Glyn says, I still think there is further to go in accommodating people in urban areas. The recent riots were a result not simply of overcrowding (although it may have been a factor) but of poor education, law-and-order and social policies. These thíngs need to be looked at at the same time as the planning question.

D Pimborough said...

Protecting the countryside is something I agree with but then I have to admit reality. I look at Wales and see communities isolated and with no future. Places that are so isolated from the mainstream of development that there is little hope of decent work or of maintaining communities.

It says a lot when Wales' main employers are Councils, NHS and Tesco. Leave the borders and drive West and all you have are low paid "hospitality" work or rural farming which provides little hope of prosperity. The communication infrastructure of North Wales is shabby at best with only two halfway decent roads in the North (A5 & A55).

There are so many quangos and authorities in Wales that can override or object to development and planning from the National Parks to CADW to the Snowdon Society.

Even plans to develop the RAF Llanbedr site into a small commercial airport were stymied by the Snowdon Society (a charity).

This obsession with the tourist pound the Senedd have is leading large parts of Wales in to an economic back water full of day trippers and retirees.

The average tourist spends on average £10 a day on visiting Wales ~ you can't build an economy on that and you can not live in a rural timecapsule.

And no I do not suggest the wholesale destruction of Rural Wales (or any part of the UK) but it should be remembered that people live there and that Wales needs to be more than a haven for touring caravans and hillwalkers or a dumping ground for hapless drug abuse cases (like Rhyl).