The ‘hands off our land’ campaign spearheaded by the likes of the CPRE and the National Trust, in response to the National Planning Policy Framework, has borne fruit. It’s pushed the Government to now encourage the reuse of previously developed (brownfield) land and, in turn, recognise the ‘intrinsic value’ of the countryside in this policy.
In the past, the Countryside Alliance has harped on about how town and city dwellers do not understand the issues of those living in the country, and gets really excited when laws are passed by those they consider ‘townies’ restricting their ancient activities. Yet the National Trust can become a campaigning group – against the wishes of many members – to dictate that those in towns bear the brunt of future development.
So, ‘brown’ is good and ‘green’ is bad. But why should those who live in urban areas lose their open spaces to preserve a countryside that they’re largely excluded from? We’re not short of land in this country. We are short of housing and now housing must, where possible, be built on former industrial or brownfield land.
So, where will industry go? Previously it went cheek by jowl with housing, simply because it was necessary for the workers to live within walking distance. In modern times we demand separation. Is industry to be forced out altogether? Will we see factories springing up in the country because urban brownfield sites are covered with homes? Will the commuter process be set in reverse?
What’s wrong with the generic evolution of towns and cities into what is now ‘countryside’? In earlier times, cities grew to provide open spaces such as the squares and parks that are so admired in London. In the 1940s and ’60s, new towns were built in the open country, planned as a latticework of neighbourhoods linked by corridors of green expanse.
Are we now to throw all that away in order to cram every available urban space in preference to further ‘erosion’ of the countryside?
Derelict land is certainly not all bad. Cleaned up, it’s a playground. Many of our most popular butterflies live on wasteland and the weeds that are tolerated there. Rather than building on these areas as a matter of course, shouldn’t we perhaps be thinking how they can be enhanced for both humans and wildlife? The green belt was created as ‘the lungs of the city’ — but shouldn’t we preserve some brownfield land as lungs within the city or town, rather than relying on swathes of land outside?
We’re in danger of creating an imaginary wall between town and country, and a hardening of political boundaries between those who have open spaces and those who will see more of their environment concreted over.
We need to begin thinking about planning laws that enhance the living environment and perhaps take on some of the pioneering spirit of those who created the new towns. Planning truly needs to work for the common good, as envisaged when it was first mooted, and not for the preservation of a stratified society and an unchanging landscape.