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Planning: New menace to our countryside

September 19th, 2011 by

Green belt destruction

Photograph by Raymond Zoller

Our English countryside is under threat again. The government is trying to rush through massive changes to the planning system, which would make it much easier to build on green field sites. We have just a few weeks to stop this happening.

Experts are lining up to condemn the government plans. The National Trust warns of “unchecked and damaging development”. Friends of the Earth predicts “a building free-for-all that will blight our countryside with bad building”.

A massive people-powered petition can make the government think again. It worked to stop England’s forests being sold off. It can work again to stop precious countryside being wrecked by bulldozers and concrete.

Please add your name now, then forward this message to all your friends: 38degrees.org.uk/save-our-countryside

The government says their plans, called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), are in the name of economic growth and “sustainable development”. Yet we know that foolishly handing over more power to developers to bulldoze over our countryside is not the path to Britian’s long-term happiness or prosperity. Nor do they bother to actually define or explain what “sustainable development” is or how it would work in a system so heavily weighted in favour of big developers – leading experts to complain it’s mere spin.

Jonathon Porritt, former head of the Sustainable Development Commission, outlines some of his concerns: “ it is just a bit of a problem that there is no reference to environmental limits in the NPPF, no reference to health, no reference to social justice, and no reference to the practicalities of delivering low-carbon growth.”

The English countryside is something we all enjoy. It’s far too precious to build on willy-nilly. Once our green fields are gone, they’re gone forever.

If we work together, we can stand up for a balanced, careful approach to deciding what to build and where to build it. We can protect local communities’ right to have their say, make sure social housing is built where it’s needed and protect wildlife and beautiful, tranquil places.

Having to act fast to stop an urgent threat to our countryside feels eerily familiar doesn’t it! It’s only a few months since half a million of us came together to stop plans to sell off England’s forests. It worked that time – now let’s come together again to stop this new threat to our beautiful green places.

Take two minutes now to add your name to the petition: 38degrees.org.uk/save-our-countryside

The government “consultation” ends in October. They say that after that they want to press ahead quickly. So we’ve got just a few weeks to make this petition huge. Please add your name now, then share this blog post with all your friends and ask them to sign the petition too.

Further information:

Stopping dangerous changes to the planning system was prioritised by thousands of 38 Degrees members in the August campaign priorities poll. You can see the full results here.

National Planning Policy Framework

Campaigning organisations:

The National Trust

Friends of the Earth

Campaign to Protect Rural England

The Woodland Trust

Interesting Articles:

The Guardian: This localism bill will sacrifice our countryside to market forces


Planning For Sustainable Development

The Guardian: This wrecking ball is Osborne’s version of sustainable development

The Guardian: A development free-for-all will lead to chaos

Posted in Save our Countryside


  • Warbler

    One of the things that could be pointed out to the government is that the bill would contradict what they are putting in their rather strange ‘localism’ bill.  The latter states that local people should be given a real say in what happens in their communities, meaning that the two bills make for a head-on clash.

    Another point is that the govt is going on about affordable housing, when the problem for this (and no one really knows what is meant by the phrase) is not land use, but inflated prices and lack of lending by the very rich banks.

    There is simply no joined up thinking in all these destructive bills, only an apparent desire to please the big money guys by a government which is not really elected, given that it is in almost allr espects a conservative government.  Its antics certainly have nothing much to do with democracy.

  • Douglas_McCormack

    Any presumption in
    planning law should be in favour of local and affected parties of the proposed
    developments and not central government campaigns for building ridiculously
    uneconomic Wind Farms anywhere or houses on our treasured greenbelt and common
    land. In the case of wind farms, these monstrosities and their massive support
    pylons are being imposed on us by ideologically motivated politicians in the
    name of ludicrous CO2 mitigation policies, based on highly questionable and
    totally unproven science. We don’t need to scrap our more modern coal fired
    plants with their clean flue scrubbing technologies, just build a few more.

  • Pembo

    No, although I support most 38 degrees campaigns, this is the wrong one!  It really is time that we put the ability of ordinary people to buy or rent affordable housing above the woolly concept of  ”the countryside” – a countryside that is only even enjoyed by 20% or less of the population, as opposed to just enjoying the concept – check any worthwhile research on it, and you will find this is right.

    We have absolutely loads of green countryside in this country. It comprises more than 95% of the land mass.  We don’t have enough affordable housing, and we certainly are way off track for delivering the level of housing needs forecast for the next 20 years (or even 10 years for that matter).  Again, check the research if you don’t believe me. 

    Another myth is that all “greenfield” sites are attractive.  Many of them are highly unattractive.  And before assuming that it’s an ecological issue, once again, check the facts.  In all well planned residential development, measures are built in to ensure that the development is at the very least neutral in its effect on flaura and fauna, and in most cases, it actively improves matters by the planned environment it creates, rather than the untidy accidental mess that it often replaces.

    For the record, there is a difference between green belt and greenfield.  This term greenfield has no legal meaning.  Green belt does.  Green belt was   not created to protect greenery or environment, but to put a break on unreasonable urban sprawl.  However, with growing housing needs (both through increased population levels and through changed social patterns, changes in household size etc.) there really can be no choice but to find a way of addressing those housing needs in an affordable way, if we are not to wind downhill.  Economic needs of the population are as important as ecological needs, and have to be appropriate balanced.  At present, in terms of housing needs, they are not, they are considerably outbalanced by the brakes applied for ecological and other reasons (see NIMBY below)..

    The resistance by NIMBYs and “green lobbyists” to the development necessary to provide affordable housing for real people has been a shambles for far too long.  In honesty, I’m not at all convinced that the proposed legislation will actually make that any better as, so far as I can determine, it leaves it in the hands of local councils, etc., who are usually the most vociferous in practicing NIMBY tactics.  I accept that environmentalists are well meaning, and certainly do not subscribe to the school of thinking that we shouldn’t be protecting our environment, but as I have already said, check the facts, carefully planned and monitored development does not threaten our environment.  What does make me fume, and is usually the strongest reason for resistance to development, is the NIMBY motive (just in case there’s anybody who doesn’t know what it means it’s “Not in my back yard”) which is purely selfish. 

    Let’s change this perception that this is all about serving the interests of the construction industry – in this case, at the least, the construction industry is pursuing a goal that is for the benefit of our population as a whole.  Furthermore, we spend lots of money training professional planners who have a full grasp on all of these issues, so it really is time that we started to let them do their jobs properly, where they really do take into account all of these aspects in a balanced fashion, rather than letting the “democratic” but informed lobby constantly overule them.  That’s what the change in legislation should be.  We wouldn’t let an electrical design be carried out democratically would we?  We would insist that a professional, with training, accreditation and monitoring by his/her professional institute, would carry it out.  This should also be what should happen with planning.

  • Matt Montgomery

    “Unproven science”? Not really important if you agree with the IPCC report or not. Energy security, recouce use and environmental damage from mining are undeniably important issues that need to be addressed and the building of new coal stations won’t do this. And whilst the siting of wind farms is important and sometimes dubious, windfarms in themsleves are not a bad thing.

  • SusieR

    So ‘the construction industry is pursuing a goal that is for the benefit of our population as a whole’. That’ll be a first then.

    What’s the betting any new houses built on greenfield sites will be so-called ‘executive’ homes, way out of the price range of any first time buyers? Developers are not altruists, they’re in business to make a profit.  

  • Douglas_McCormack

    Hmm, all raw materials we use in an industrialised society are mined and all industrial processes (including windmill manufacture) require energy, and 95% of energy is from fossil fuel sources that are mined (extracted). Nearly all our cars, TV’s, mobile devices, planes, trains together with nearly all other consumer products we use are imported. And this is for one reason, they’re considerably cheaper than we can produce, and China builds a new coal fired plant a week to help produce most of it.

  • Douglas_McCormack

    Quote “rather than letting the “democratic” but informed lobby constantly overrule them”! Think that says it all really. Soviet Russia used central planners to decide what people needed, as the Proletariat could not be relied on or trusted to make the “right” decisions. Look what happened to that society.

  • Matt Montgomery

    I agree and this reinforces the need for these issues to be addressed, not through the development of new coal fueled power stations though.

  • Matt Montgomery

    “carefully planned and monitored development does not threaten our environment.”

    This is true but the main concern that I (as a professional masterplanner and sustainable development expert) have is that our current infrastructure support systems (water, transport, energy etc) do not have the spare capacity to support greenbelt development. And more to the point this type of development typically requires increased car use since our public transport systems are inadequate. Increased car use increases energy consuption, pollution and decreases community cohesion and individual health (check the research). These systemic problems need to be addressed holistically. A holistic analysis of the evidence shows that the most appropriate solution is for increased infill development, not urban expansion.

    A side point to this is that the housing market is currently artificially inflated by developers who sit on their land banks pushing up prices. Much could be done about housing supply by addressing this issue first and avoiding environmental impacts (other than purely biodiversity and NIMBY concerns) associated with greenbelt development.

    “Furthermore, we spend lots of money training professional planners who have a full grasp on all of these issues”

    Sadly, whilst it is true that we do spend lots of money, a systems aproach considering all issues holisitically (which is needed in complex ‘messy’ problems – check the research) is not usually an approach most planners have in their skill set – I know I work with them on a daily basis.

  • Haslamizzie

    Affordeble housing at the moment isnt affordable.

  • Bartoncliffy

    As a retired MRTPI and lecturer in town planning, I totally agree. This knocks the much quoted concept of sustainability well into touch. Seems that the UK wants everyone else to save the planet, but when the economic crunch comes development no matter where or how appropriate is justifiable. Again as you say what has happened to the brown field crusade, affordability, and most importantly joined up planning. 

  • Bartoncliffy

    Really good points, but it does seem to me that all governments are the same and that the civil servants have got their knickers in a twist serving different departments. The Blair Government produced volumes of documents about Community involvement and local democracy, but I am not aware of the improvement at the local level, especially with the top down Eco-town concept which seemed based purely on the availability of surplus government land. They also eroded the ability of local planners to ‘control’ local development, and as for the concept of sustainable development – where has this gone. Thatcher brought in UDC and Enterprise Zones which labour attacked as undemocratic , then totally supported. Heseltine  scrapped space standards for new housing and stated that design should be a matter for the market not local planners. 
    So is our planning system to be further sacrificed for the panic to revive the economy – looks like it.

  • http://www.andy-mercer.co.uk Andy Mercer

    Allow every farmer in the country to build one or two houses on a little used corner of his farm for self build and small builders.. and bingo property shortage solved. But we all know this wouldn’t suit the national builders this proposal is all about profits for large house builders.

    You would think the only people capable of building houses are the big boys..

  • Tonytraf

    This is an important point. Increasing planning permissions will not increase the supply of housing, merely increase the likelihood of it being built in unsuitable and damaging places. If the existing land which already has planning permission were to be developed most of the current shortage would be addressed almost overnight. Planning regulations in general and planning permission in particular are not the problems here. The current crisis is however being misused as a handy weapon to blacken the process and try and remove safeguards which have served us well since 1947.

  • Matt Griffith

    Christ – talk about bandwagon. 

    Get serious 38 degrees, you know nothing about this issue – beyond it looking like a great mobilisation vehicle. 

  • Matt Griffith

    Cian – can you tell us a bit more about your experience of either planning policy work or the provision of affordable housing? Would be great to hear how who is making the difficult judgements at 38 degrees campaign HQ. 

    And when you said “Experts are lining up” did you mean to say “special interest groups who tend to have a membership profile that is over 60, white and wealthy are lining up…”?

  • Notty Robin

    Save our nation of charm & splendour
    Save our England of verdant wonder,
    Develop sites of dereliction,
    Stop all this greedy affliction,
    Build in Scotland, Ireland & Wales,
    Share the burden and cure England’s ails,
    Fill all the empty properties first,
    Protect our  nation, Dont make it worst,
    If you want more houses then build on land spare,
    For England is full so DONT BUILD THEM HERE.

  • Joy

    While the campaign focuses on the countryside there are other issues which need to be pointed out because this proposed policy change- if it gets through- will affect urban areas just as much, so don’t forget that.  Pressure for development on greenfield sites is obvious because its cheaper than brownfield development and its easier- although how can it been ‘sustainable’ when greenfield development will introduce  cars, infrastructure, people with their carbon footprints to open spaces, sterilising them for ever? 

    But –  and this may seem a small thing – but it isnt- I suspect the Advertisement Regulations are being got rid of- at least in their present  form. These regulations stop adverts appearing everywhere you look- like the advertising sprawl you get in the States, Spain etc. We do have strict controls here to protect all areas from advertising clutter.

    This is from the draft NPPF:

    123. Control over outdoor advertisements should be efficient, effective and simple in concept and operation. Only those advertisements which will clearly have an appreciable impact on a building or on their surroundings should be subject to the local planning authority’s detailed assessment. Advertisements should be subject to control only in the interests of amenity and public safety.Once more – and remember this will be the only piece of national policy guidance left – is woolly, ill defined – what does efficient, effective and simple mean  in real life?? Without proper definition  who knows?’Only in the interests of amenity and safety’ strikes me that the regulations will be loosened up and we will have them everywhere, like mushrooms springing  up overnight- they might not be so noticeable in urban areas, but they will in the countryside- havent you noticed farmers with hoardings in their fields near motorways etc?? This proposed change sounds small but if advertisers are let loose- can you imagine what places will look like covered in hoardings, signs, flashing neon lights???This is a good article by Simon Jenkins with some facts: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comm…and this:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/03/bill-bryson-countryside-planning-reformsfrom Bill Bryson.AND Please keep voting…..

  • http://twitter.com/DuncanStott Duncan Stott

    Less than 7% of the UK is developed. To be fair that includes mountainous regions of Scotland, but only 10% of the South East is developed. We have loads of countryside.

    Meanwhile, there are 4.5 millions people on social housing waiting lists. The cost of housing has rocketed. It is the poorest in our society who feel the brunt of this the most.

    The only way we are going to get people off housing waiting lists and lower the cost of housing is to build millions more houses. All we need is just 1% of the countryside to be freed up for development and we’d solve the housing crisis. That is what the NPPF guidelines will allow.

    Along come 38 Degrees who oppose this. If they get their way, young families on low incomes will keep paying through the nose to keep a roof over their heads. And who benefits from the high cost of housing?

    1. The banks, who make a fortune in interest repayments on the huge mortgages we all need to take out,
    2. The wealthy elite at the top of the housing ladder.

    Anyone opposing the planning reforms needs to take a long hard look at themselves, what they are doing and who they are defending.

    Shame on 38 Degrees.

  • http://twitter.com/DuncanStott Duncan Stott

    For more, please take a look at this article from the CEO of Shelter:

  • Pembo

    I may not have made it clear, but I am not advocating developments so isolated from current infrastructure support systems.  I thought I had covered this, but on re-reading I didn’t, and that is probably because I felt it was wrapped between my advocacy of allowing professional planners to do their job, and of referring to carefully planned and monitored development, but I’ll fill the gap now.  It is a well established piece of wisdom that the best sites for new developments are close to existing developments, not only because of the relative ease of making infrastructure connections, but also from the point of view of access to facilities, schooling, policing, libraries et al, and furthermore from a social and economic point of view.  We don’t improve matters, however, by squeezing a new development into every little patch of released land (i.e. brownfield) in order to achieve this, the best use, usually, of brownfield sites being as I described to turn them to urban greenery, which has the advantage of naturally remediating the land over a long period of time (possibly even 100-200 years, but isn’t that the sort of timeframe that we should be considering if we’re going to be responsible custodians of our planet?) as well as being a proven way of improving the quality of life of residents. What is needed, by contrast, is the organic growth of existing conurbations (which incidentally, could include existing villages, not just towns and cities), with developments around and slightly beyond current boundaries, wherever possible using packets of land that are “sandwiched” in locations to be of no particular contribution to the overall “countryside” (there as so many of these packets, left-over packets/wedges/whatever, between existing developed areas and, for instance motorways, railways, or other natural obstacles that isolate the packet from providing continuous “countryside”. In some cases this may well mean redesignating greenbelt land, but only where things have changed (it is after all, 60 years since the original designations, since when there have been so many changes – there were, for instance no motorways at the time (or maybe the M1 might have existed for a short stretch).  But most of all, population and social living patterns have completely changed.  In looking at each and every proposal, it is essential that every aspect, especially these aspects of connections to infrastructure and other services, is taken into account.  The reading that I have done about this leads me to believe that it is entirely possible to solve the entire housing crisis, at least in terms of the planning process (there are most certainly many other political and commercial considerations that could still present major obstacles, but that is another matter entirely) with such organic growth, whilst making very little dent on the countryside.As to the whole business about allowing planners to plan, instead of throwing it open to democratic vote by the uniformed/untrained, although you may be a professional planner, and although I am not, I am very familiar with the work of planners as, prior to (ill health) retirement, I was Senior Project Manager/head of business in an international infrastructure consultancy, most recently located in the UAE, with all of the development in Dubai taking place, and had planners in my various teams there. I can assure you that those planners most definitely did take a systems approach, considering all issues holistically.  Also, although not a planner myself, as the Senior Manager responsible for those teams, I had to understand the principles of what they were doing, sufficient both to pull together into the project as a whole, and in order to ensure that we had done our job to a satisfactory standard.  As an example, one of those teams was the project management team (150 strong) for the infrastructure for the Palm Island development in Dubai, and another was appointed to be Master Programme Manager for the development of a completely new City in Oman.   Furthermore, I used to present at international seminars and held workshops on sustainability – not just the fashionable application to exclusively ecological/environmental issues, but in its true meaning, across all aspects of social, economic, and environmental issues, placing people and their needs (over periods of 10, 20, 50 and 100 years into the future) at the centre of the process.  So my key areas of expertise are in precisely the aspects that you mention – the provision of infrastructure and the masterplanning of major new developments, at a scale way larger than anything that we would be seriously contemplating in the UK.  The last time anything was done to that scale in the UK was Milton Keynes.One of our frequent roles was to review the work of Masterplanners.    However, I must stress that our experience of most UK based masterplanning companies was that they often lacked imagination, but once they realised that they really were going to be allowed to do their job properly, they were then able to really do the job well. This was also our experience with planners who joined our teams from the UK.  Those coming from any of the US, Australia, or most parts of Asia, did follow these whole system approaches. It is my personal view that it is precisely because of the way that they are constantly overruled by politicians and the public at large that has discouraged most council employed urban planners from applying their skills appropriately, and the best way to promote their operation to the same standard as their international counterparts is to give them the authority and responsibility to do their jobs properly without uninformed, emotive interventions such as they have been used to.

    To see the outcome of such professionally undertaken urban planning, you can look at almost any US city, or even just have a try of SimCity in any of its later variants.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed that, as a professional masterplanner and  sustainable development “expert” you still appeared to have confused the terms greenbelt and greenfield.  Incidentally, amongst those who attended my sustainability workshops there would usually be a significant number of sustainability and/or masterplanning professionals, and without any exception, they all commented that they were going out with a new and broader view of the subject of sustainability, which they had hitherto thought of only in the sense of sustainability in an ecological sense.  Unfortunately, my personal crusade to spread that enlightenment further afield was halted by my health. 

  • Pembo

    Just for clarity, that last posting was in response to Matt Montgomery, not Matt Griffiths.

  • Pembo

    Well said Duncan.  I think you may have more accurate figures than mine – mine were approximate from memory, and deliberately erring on the cautious side – I didn’t want to be accused of exaggerating.

    And I agree, SHAME ON 38 DEGREES.  I found the article form the CEO of Shelter very interesting.  PLEASE EVERYBODY, I’M SHOUTING FOR A GOOD REASON – don’t ignore this link provided by Duncan Stott, you will end up having a far better balanced view.

  • Pembo

    Sorry, my mistake, just a typo, I missed out two essential letters -”un” - I meant  ”Rather than letting the “democratic and uninformed lobby constantly overrule them” not informed – if they were informed I’d be all for it.  If I were opposed to that, then your analogy with Soviet Russia would be valid. As it is, you might like to know that the approach I suggest is the one adopted by most of the civilised world, following well tried and tested principles in the US, Australia, New Zealand and most economically developed countries in Asia.  It works exceptionally well. 

    Whatever your perception of US cities may be (and I’m not referring to the likes of Las Vegas which was most definitely not  planned) if you actually visit any of them you will find that, as a result of being planned by professional planners, using well-tried planning principles that seek a true, sustainable balance of economic, social and environmental factors, whilst ensuring viability with such matters as infrastructure provision and constructibility, most US cities have a really pleasant balance of built and green environment that feels pleasant to live and work in. 

    Of course it’s not right to leave it to the “proletariat”, (or shall we use less emotive words and refer to the population at large, as this isn’t soviet Russia?) to make decisions requireing professional competence, As I said, you wouldn’t let an electrical design be carried out by an unqualified, unregulated, unprofessional “democratic” vote would you?  For that matter, nor would you allow a legal ruling to be produced on that basis.  So why do we think this should be a subject for democratic decisions.  Democracies employ professionals to provide them with viable options, just as any individual would.  The democracy comes in ensuring that the appointment of such professionals is by democratically appointed representatives, following open and sensible processes developed to protect the interests of the population that they represent. 

  • IanWelles

    Are you any relation to Duncan Stott of  the Kier Group (Construction and Development?)

  • IanWelles

    Duncan’s figures are inaccurate as a quick google will confirm.

  • IanWelles

    Do you always go in for such crass stereotyping? I am white, under 60 and not wealthy, though if I was all three I cannot see why my opinion is worth less than yours. Perhaps you think old people shouldn’t get the vote?
    Perhaps you could tell us about your experience of planning policy work just so we know exactly where you are coming from?

  • IanWelles

    .. “ carefully planned and monitored development does not threaten our environment.”

    So you are supporting a NPPF which deliberately makes sure that no development can ever be planned and monitored? 
    In ten years of monitoring local developments and their impact have never come across a single one that didn’t damage the environment .
    Your statistics are also wrong. The last time only 5% of Britain’s landmass was built on was about 1941. 

    Incidentally I have lived in Dubai and I would like to take everyone responsible for any of the planning there and put them in the stocks. It is the ugliest, most soul-destroying, most ecologically disastrous and unsustainable hell-hole on the planet. And bear in mind that I’ve lived in Milton Keynes as well, so I know a bit about hell-holes. 

  • IanWelles

    Brilliant work 38% in bringing this vital matter to everyone’s attention. 

    Good luck and shame on those (usually associated with the building industry) who clam the NPPF is about helping the homeless and not about huge profits for developers and landowners.

  • IanWelles

    38 degrees obviously, not 38%.

    An edit button for us careless types would be useful.

  • Joy

    I find it hard to agree with these figures about the amount of undeveloped land in England ( as the draft NPPF does not apply to Scotland and Wales) as noted by Duncan Stott – one only has to go to Google Earth or satellite pics of the UK to see the huge land take of London alone – then add in all the other major conurbations that leak into one another Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham/Walsall/Coventry, the North east areas of Newcastle, Teesside and Middlesborough and so on and so forth, then add all the country towns and villages, power stations, railway depots and sidings, port areas, oil terminal, warehouse and retail parks, industrial areas, motorways and roads, mines and quarries, landfills, military installations, chemical plants and so on and on and on, to think these figures are suspect.

    And what do you mean by developed? Anything that isnt developed might be productive forest or farmland… we are not self sufficient in food production now- what happens in the future when our food security will be challenged by countries with huge populations like China, India and Latin America and we are bidding on the open market for cheap food supplies? Or will it be expensive food supplies? What happens if this NPPF goes ahead and development demand explodes and one finds that there aren’t enough water supplies to go round? Look at this summer- areas of the country still under drought conditions, major rivers a third down on their supplies because of heavy water abstractions to supply our current levels of demand in currently developed areas? And yet more expansion is demanded? How will you secure adequate water supplies to all these new housing developments? Are you proposing  to build new reservoirs and the necessary infrastructure to pipe it to the right places? 

    In any case it would seem housing developers in particular have got plenty of supply.  


    Perhaps someone in the housing industry would like to confirm or deny these figures? If correct and this is what you get now- what are you expecting in the future? And are all these permissions for the affordable housing  you are claiming to want to build??? In my experience real affordable housing is not at the top of housing development projects as its not as profitable as executive estates. 

    The planning system has worked reasonably well to date – it permits the majority of applications within 8-13 weeks, it permits development in places like greenfield ( and greenbelt ) sites already. If those figures are correct it would seem the housing industry is not being denied. 

    No shame on 38 degrees for running with an issue that is a cause of concern, not just to many ordinary people, but also the Royal Town Planning Institute,  the NT, the WI, the CPRE, the Woodlands Trust, the Grasslands Trust, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, the FA, the RFU, the LTA, English Heritage, Historic Homes Association, Civic Voice, FoE, Greenpeace, OPen Spaces Society, Town and Country Planning Association and many others. 

  • IanWelles

    Thank you Joy for taking the trouble to write such a sensible piece. 

    I am afraid Duncan Stott’s figures are not accurate, as you suspected. 

    People will have to get sued to the fact that resources (especially land) are limited and you just cannot keep increasing the population of a country,  especially an island nation, without issues with food production, ecosystem services, water supply, heating and many more issues. 
    England has about 10% building cover but as it is very easy to see, much of the surrounding landscape has been disfigured by developmental overspill such as noise  and light pollution, litter and so forth.  75% of the landscape is farmed, leaving just 15% for all other purposes including biodiversity preservation, reservoirs, forestry and the like. There is a constant battle to keep Britain’s native species from extinction as the huge pressure human population pressures take their toll. 
    An overcrowded country is an unhappy country in which the battle for resources and space will take their toll on quality of life.

  • IanWelles

    Used, not sued. FFS, Ian!

  • Joy

    Hmmm Ian – thanks for that- but Im intrigued- where do you get these figures from? Ive been trolling around the internet and Im wondering how these land take figures were acquired/derived. Has someone with a computer crunched down from scanning satellite pics? How do they define developed? An actual building footprint and/or the service areas to support those buildings? The trouble is too that whatever figures are given I suspect they are net , not gross. Gross being gardens,footpaths, access roads etc, ie all the land also needed to support those developments.  Plus urban fringe, left over bits of land that no-one can access- which is why they are left over – railway land, car parks, access roads, airport areas, bits round racing tracks, servicing yards and areas etc. Not developable. Fragmented and no doubt in different ownerships.

    I still would treat any land take figures with caution- and I repeat just go to Google Earth etc to see just how much land is urbanised or used. 

    Perhaps what someone should be doing is rescanning nationally and finding all these bits of urban/urban fringe land which could be developable and then investigating the who the what the why. Cant see that ever happening though. Be too expensive. However I do believe that giving developers the green light is not the way. At the very least the presumption in favour should be taken away ( excepting brownfield or land allocated in local plans) and as for the rest, they should have to prove their case in terms of a cost benefit analysis of their proposal on their proposed site.- eg affordable housing- investigate – see who in a village ( sadly often targeted by second home owners) actually wants a house there, wants to stay, how that would benefit the village, what the cost of land loss is etc etc. They barely have to justify themselves now. 

    I also wonder about this affordable homes issue too. If you are young and living in a village then maybe you might want to get away from it and go the the town/city to find a job etc. Bright lights, big city… Maybe you also dont want the burden of a mortgage and all the hassle if you want to sell and move. I mean who is making the assumption that young people desperately want to buy and need affordable homes?   Most young people I know rent because they just dont want the hassle of home ownership. And there’s plenty of property to rent. And if its people in cities who need homes- then the argument about redeveloping exisitng sites and brownfield comes into play. If you were living in a city centre and needed a home would you want to be banged out onto a greenfield development away from your job etc, and have to find your way into work- commuting costs, times etc?? Or are we talking of even another group of people wanting homes ………

  • IanWelles

    Hi Joy, 

    The figures are hard to obtain but this is as good as you will find. 


    There is some explanation in the accompanying pages about how these figures were arrived at.

    Unfortunately someone has plucked the 5% figure out of mid-air and it has been repeated around the internet. It is an urban myth (pun intended).

    Figures hide the fact that if you have 100 acres of countryside and build a 50 acre village in the  middle of it, the remaining 50 acres tends to lose much of its countryside ‘value’. It becomes noisy, litter strewn and any wildlife habitat becomes degraded by the reduction in scale, by pollution and by disturbance. Yet it will  still show as ‘green land’ on a survey. That is one reason why the figures for development should be taken with a pinch of salt. The counter argument is that some land classified is urban is actually ‘green’ – back gardens, overgrown areas and so forth – but then lots of gardens are also gravelled and concreted nightmares that are worse for greenery than the average factory roof. So it is complicated.
    One thing we can say for sure is that most good wildlife habitat in this country has been destroyed since the first world war, mainly by human pressure for water, housing and agriculture.

    Here are the figures for Nottinghamshire, an averagely-rural county

    97 percent of the county’s flower-rich meadows have been lost since the 1930s
    90 percent of our heathland has been lost since 1920s
    species such as grass of Parnassus, pearl-bordered fritillary and Nottingham catchfly (a plant which obtained its name from the fact that it grew on the walls on Nottingham Castle) have all become extinct in the county
    national figures indicate that in every county in Britain, one species of plant becomes extinct every two years.Your other points are also good and interesting but I don not have time to respond right now!

  • http://twitter.com/DuncanStott Duncan Stott

    No. Never heard of him. I work in audio electronic engineering. My family all work in teaching. My only interest in this is as a member of Generation Rent, priced out of the property market and paying ever-soaring rents.

  • http://twitter.com/DuncanStott Duncan Stott

    Which figures are you disputing?

  • IanWelles

    Hello Duncan. Good luck on getting on the housing ladder, though of course if the government builds millions more homes it is all a bit pointless since a house will cease to be a good investment. Of course in most of Europe house ownership isn’t widespread, so people rent and don’t worry about it. But I understand that you want a house and you want to live somewhere nice, and not for example in my home town where houses are available for £70K. You might not be able to find work round here anyway.
    I’m afraid you seem to have misunderstood the NPPF. The government says it is about building affordable homes, but this is ‘spin’ (which used to be known as a Big Fat Lie.) For a start, there is nothing in the NPPF making any developer build anything at an affordable level. Secondly, if they were interested simply in more houses, they would have stuck with the current rules which already grant permission to over 80% of applicants. Thirdly there is room for 3 million homes on derelict (brownfield) land and over 750,000 empty properties in this country which could be brought into use, so it isn’t that they don’t have the space without building on greenfield. Then there are the second homes and Buy to Let properties all of which take up space for potential buyers and could be discouraged with taxation. Since the relaxation of planning rules would benefit the rich more than anyone (they can sell land for housing at a huge profit) these problems would be enhanced as money became concentrated in the hands of the few.
    You will notice in my post above that currently one species of plant is becoming extinct in each county in Britain every two years. Since every loss of a species degrades an ecosystem, this is something of a ‘canary in a coal mine’ scenario. This is because there  is so much pressure on the land we have that farming, forestry, development and ecosystem services (such as water, flooding areas, drainage, biodiversity etc) are already competing furiously for room. The percentage figure of built up land may not seem a lot, but it takes a huge amount of food to feed a growing population and so this much space is necessary.  (14% urbanisation as shown above and not your figure). 
    So the NPPF is actually about developers (3.5 million pounds to the Tories in the last 3 years) getting permission to build on greenfield which makes them bigger profits but is much worse for the country as a whole. They can build anything they like as well, not just affordable housing. Indeed, probably no affordable housing.
    So no shame here. I can’t afford a house (I’m disabled) so my desire to save the countryside is based mainly on my love for it, and has nothing to do with my house price. I suspect most of the 80,000 who have so far signed the petition feel the same way. Remember that even though you may be an urbanite who hates the countryside, for many of us it is the very essence of life and existence – our spiritual hub.

  • IanWelles

    Who is going to pay for the roads, electricity and everything else that will need to be routed to every remote corner of a farmer’s field? If people have to drive everywhere won’t that increase the burning of fossil fuels and pollution?
    It seems a nice thought but it is actually not really practical.

  • http://twitter.com/DuncanStott Duncan Stott

    In reply to IanWelles’s comment to me below:

    I don’t want to own a home as an investment. I want to own a home that I can live in, make my own and feel secure in. Renting gives you no security. The landlord can hike the rent up every 12 months so that you’re forced to move. I’ve moved 4 times in the last 5 years. It’s all very well homeowners extolling the virtues of renting as a lifestyle, but you don’t hear many tenants arguing it.

    I agree that the NPPF isn’t about building ‘affordable’ houses. It’s simply about building houses. The problem is that existing houses are unaffordable. Providing new homes at prices unaffordable to first time buyers still helps first time buyers, as existing homeowners can afford to move up the housing ladder, leaving space for first time buyers to get on to the first rung. The problem with building affordable housing is that it requires big government subsidies to get it built, and the government doesn’t have any money.

    There’s space for 1 million houses on brownfield land, not 3 million. Of course we should be prioritising development of empty properties and brownfield land over greenfield construction. However the housing crisis isn’t nationwide. The places with the greatest housing pressures have already used up much of their brownfields. Come down here to Oxford and show me all these vacant properties and derelict sites.

    Of course most planning applications are granted. Developers only go through the costly process of gaining planning permission if they are confident they will be granted it. What your figures don’t show are the planning applications that are never submitted because the current regime is too restrictive.

    I agree about removing tax breaks on second homes. Landlords should be responsible for council tax, not tenants.

    At the moment, land is concentrated in the hands of the few. The only way you will redistribute the value of that land is if it gets sold. Sure, the wealthy would move from land-rich to capital-rich. They may well invest that capital into other businesses, which would really help get our economy moving again.

    Species of plant are being gained and lost all the time. It’s called evolution.

    You acknowledge the growing population (and the number of households is growing faster than population). So you must surely see that at some point we’re going to need to develop greenfields, even if every square inch of brownfield is used?

    My figure of 6% urbanisation is from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. http://bit.ly/r3wJlk Where is your figure from?

    The only way ‘greedy developers’ can make huge profits is if there’s huge demand. So by acknowledging this as their motiviation, you basically prove that the current demand for housing is not being met at the moment.

    I grew up in the countryside and I certainly don’t hate it, but there’s absolutely loads of it. We just need rules with the flexibility to free up a little bit of countryside for housing. Where every house stands, there used to be countryside once. Without greedy developers you wouldn’t have a roof over your head. Please don’t deny future generations this absolute basic at an affordable level.

  • IanWelles

    Hi Duncan, 
    Excuse the brevity of my reply but I am going on holiday (lucky me) so time is limited.
    The figure of 14% can be found on the Defra website -

    - I think the differential is caused by the Defra figure including urban infrastructure in urban areas (ie roads and so forth) whereas the ECH simply classifies areas as urban if they are predominantly urban within their boundaries.

    I agree with a great deal of what you say but this suggests to me you are unaware of what the NPPF entails, as brownfield sites are not prioritised and greenfield building will not be controlled but simply down to the whim of the individual land owner. As it stands they can say build what they like where they like (on undesignated land,which is the vast majority) and there is little that can be done to stop them. This is a recipe for urban sprawl, bad design, and civil war (of a Middle-English non-bloody sort).
    By Googling I found estimates of the housing that could be built on brownfield to be anywhere between 1.2 million and 3 million. It depends who you believe. I suppose it is difficult to measure or predict accurately. I also forget to mention the 270,000 houses that have planning permission granted but are not being built because developers are waiting for it to become more profitable to do so.
    Unfortunately your comment about evolution is not up to your usual highly intelligent standards. I am an evolutionary biologist by training so it may be best to take my word on this. To explain why, this may be a useful start -

     - suffice it to say that such a casual attitude to the serious degradation of this nation’s biodiversity is in no-one’s interest.

    I should also point out that it is a logical fallacy to think that because I personally live in a house, I must as a consequence be in favour of more house building.  Because something has occurred before to society’s advantage doesn’t logically mean it can carry on indefinitely into the future and still be to everyone’s advantage. 
    Because housebuilding and growth it will have to end sometime. You can’t have an expanding population on a finite landmass without running into big problems eventually. All we are doing is shunting the problem onto the next generation.

  • IanWelles

    Apologies. In line 5 that should have read  ’including urban infrastructure in rural areas’. 

    Just trying to confuse everybody.

  • J. Brain

    I recommend George Monbiots articles on his blog and in the Guardian http://www.monbiot.com. Home owner or tenant, if Eric Pickles and his dept. continue to overrule planning appeals that are thrown out when the Inspector has considered the evidence and made a measured, informed decision then localism is a myth and we ALL should be very concerned about the potentially devasting impact the Govts. new planning framework will have on our country, our environment and our wellbeing. 

    In NE Salisbury over the past 15 years we have three new estates in our fairly large parish – all built on greenfield sites. Every time we have had to fight for the promised supporting schools, bus stops and maintenance of public areas to be delivered upon. We are now facing a fourth – which was rightly thrown out by the inspector due to lack of infrastructure (road access, secondary schools, etc) to support such a development. This decision was casually over-ruled by Eric Pickles – our village will now be 50 metres from the development and we will become part of the urban sprawl – increased traffic on our narrow, once unadopted road. The only people who will profit from this are the developers (and how). Two of our big businesses have moved from the city, so I’m not even sure where the demand for these 4,500k new builds will come from. This is not sustainable building with eco-housing, well insulated homes with water recycling, it is houses for houses sake, we are also constantly battling supermarket applications (we have two tescos, a sainsbury, a lidl, plus various co-ops, one stops, M&S mini already). Building new housing developments wont improve the rental situation, giving developers carte blanche wont improve our cities and towns – you only have to look at the disasterous open planning policy of the sixties to appreciate that fact.

    Building for a better future – means thought care and good planning, long-term vision we can’t be complacent about this once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  • Joy

    Excellant link J Brain. I am a planner, and he is pretty much spot on. This draft NPPF is about much much more than just unrestricted building on the countryside.

    It needs to be said that Labour were also pretty much looking at similar stuff – Brown commissioned the Barker Report in the mid 2000s. I am beginning to think that all political parties at the moment speak with similar voice- there is nothing to choose between them. They are all one step removed from the thinking of ordinary people, just line up with vested interest groups in whose pockets they lie- and at the end of the day whats the difference between developers and unions etc. All have their own agendas and it wont be mine!  One feels its almost time for a revolution!!!

    I don’t see why they want to wipe out the planning system; it is disingenuous to say planning holds up development proposals. Where land is allocated for certain uses in the local development plan then, unless the applicant ignores all advice- the current system of plan led development would allow. It is only where windfall sites come forward that problems arise, or inappropriate sites are chosen.

    I agree with Monbiots- the system needs changing – but to be better balanced and less under the cosh of large developers. Until that happens then its better to stick with what we have- where some things can still be successfully overturned.

    Of course the other thing to do with someone like Tesco is not to be a customer. They have a poor environmental track record as well – I refuse to buy there. There’s plenty of other options.

  • Mary

    It seems as though the government is determined to build in small rural villages and green fields thereby destroying small closely knit communities. Often there is no infrastructure or transport systems which families in ‘affordable’ housing need.
     In the Midlands  a number of factory sites remain derelict Why don’t developers build ‘ affordable houses ‘ on these sites. Perhaps I am being cynical in thinking that there is less profit to be made in thes areas  

  • Farmer

    It’s not just a matter of a rash of
    new houses coming into the countryside. There’s a revolution
    starting which will rapidly introduce heavy industry throughout our
    rural areas as in many other countries recently. The shale gas
    fracking industry (hydraulic fracturing of shales) is sitting quietly
    on our doorstep, waiting for the relaxation of planning rules,
    currently being debated in Parliament. Large areas of the UK are
    already licensed for drilling. Vastly more will be included soon
    under the 14th round of licensing.

    And yet the public are mostly in the
    dark. There’s nothing much in the media apart from hype from the
    drilling companies.

    Gas fracking involves drilling down to
    the shale strata, maybe more than a mile, then up to two miles
    horizontally. Then large quantities of water and chemicals are
    injected under very high pressure to cause fractures. Subsequently
    the fractures are kept open by sand injected with more chemicals
    added to allow trapped gas to rise out.

    It’s not just a matter of the odd
    drilling rig here and there. There has to be a close network of
    wells, about a quarter mile apart. Hundreds will come in Lancashire
    according to the drilling company Cuadrilla (part owned by companies
    from Australia and China). Throughout the UK there will be many
    thousands of wells. There will be a HUGE amount of heavy haulage to
    each fracking well. That means 24 hr deliveries of diesel, water,
    sand and chemicals (some toxic) and the removal of waste chemicals to
    safe disposal sites. Each site will require new private road access,
    a large concrete yard and storage for fluids. There will be other
    intrusive infrastructure such as gas pipe lines, noisy filthy
    compressors and processing plants, There will always be a pollution
    risk to human health and safety and a risk to livestock and food
    crops. Only a third of the chemically laced fluid put into a well is
    recovered. That means that the residue remains as a hazard somewhere
    in the rocks and goes who knows where. An irrevocable threat to
    underground water quality. Not good for future generations.

    Our Government will be hoping to
    collect taxes from the gas drilling companies. They will hope for
    more jobs. Yes, probably in construction and haulage. The best paid
    specialists’ jobs will go to outsiders. “Our” gas might be
    liquefied and exported for the best price, perhaps to the energy
    hungry Chinese. It is a finite resource It takes a huge amount of
    energy to extract it, so it’s not green or carbon friendly.

    New sophisticated drilling techniques
    have allowed this industry to threaten us. The whole process is
    inadequately researched. Some countries have imposed a ban.

    If you’ve internet access
    there’s hundreds of videos and websites about fracking.

    Watch this highly recommended balanced
    lecture from an engineer, with over 30 years research experience in
    the drilling industry.


    Listen to The Report. BBC Radio 4, 8pm
    Thurs 13th Oct. see Iplayer.


    There is a Parliamentary
    e-petition you can sign to ask for a UK moratorium.


    If you want to know more, consult your

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  • Joy

    Thank you for raising this as an issue and organising this campaign.However, its not over yet. The Government are considering the replies and will be making ‘adjustments’. The one thing they are not backing down on is the ‘presumption in favour of development’. This is one of the single most potentially damaging phrases as it will still allow development on sites unless such proposals are proved damaging- which leaves local council’s and people fighting a rear guard action. If local councils havent got their plans in place in the way the Government wants, or vulnerable areas are not very strongly protected, then the underlying thrust behind the changes will still be in place.The Government also have not indicated that there are going to be any further consultations and the document will be brought into force next April.The National Trust are asking for a further consultation once the changes ( what changes??) have been made. Can you join with them to ask for this? Can you extend the campaign and keep the pressure up?? If this issue is not kept in the public arena it will fade away ( probably what the Government is hoping for) and before you know it the very thing you are campaigning against will become enacted.