Britain’s political class today stands accused of ‘industrialising the countryside’ by allowing the spread of wind and solar farms that have ‘blighted landscapes’ across the UK.
Sir Andrew Motion, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, condemns the ‘gung-ho’ way in which all three main political parties have put development ahead of protecting ‘Britain’s green spaces’.
He warns that the ‘dismaying short-termism’ of British politicians will condemn the countryside to pollution, waste and damage, while ‘derelict sites’ in inner cities are ‘left to rot’.
Sir Andrew – the former Poet Laureate – warns that the changes to planning rules risk leaving greenfield sites in rural areas ‘more vulnerable than ever’ and people with ‘no say’ about new development in their communities.
In a coded attack on David Cameron, Sir Andrew accuses the Government of embarking on a ‘second industrial revolution in order to compete in the global race’ – a phrase popularised by the Prime Minister.
And taking aim at Ed Miliband, he denounces the Labour leader’s support for towns to expand.
Sir Andrew writes: ‘The emerging political consensus, with its gung-ho emphasis on growth, promises a future of urban sprawl and exploitation of the natural world whichever leaders we elect.
‘Unless, that is, our politicians think again and recognise the rising public anger about the loss of our green spaces.
Mr Cameron has called for the Coalition to ‘ditch the green crap’ and Tory ministers have slashed the subsidy for onshore windfarms.
Environment Minister Greg Barker is expected to announce soon that four million solar panels covering land the size of 3,400 football pitches could be built on government land.
While the CPRE is a non-political organisation, Sir Andrew’s intervention is significant since he has previously indicated that the group’s members might not turn out to vote for parties who don’t listen to the concerns of rural voters.
The group has been highly critical of the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework, issued last year, which established a presumption in favour of sustainable development – a move that critics say has led to more building on greenfield land.
Labour has pledged to review the NPPF but Mr Miliband has also backed the right of towns to expand so more houses can be built, at the loss of greenfield land.
He said: ‘Of course it is right that local communities have a say about where housing goes. But councils cannot be allowed to frustrate continually the efforts of others councils to get homes built.’
A senior Tory source said Sir Andrew’s warnings were simply ‘attention-seeking’, adding: ‘The NPPF contains explicit protection for the greenbelt so he clearly hasn’t read it.
The greenbelt has been strengthened. Protecting the countryside is sacrosanct in our plans. It is not going to be built on.’
‘We must stop this dismal sprawl’: Sir Andrew Motion on why we need green growth that respects the environment
As we reach 2014, we come to a fork in the road.
In one direction runs a path to a greener, fairer and happier society, nourished by urban regeneration, energy efficiency, and proper protection of the environment.
In the other direction runs a stony track surrounded by blighted landscapes, where inner cities and derelict sites are left to rot.
Are we really prepared to head down that dismal route? To risk so much of what is precious to us and worth celebrating in our environment?
To allow our appetite for economic success to create such pollution, such waste, such damage?
Unhappily, it seems that we ordinary people may have no say in the matter.
The emerging political consensus, with its gung-ho emphasis on growth, promises a future of urban sprawl and exploitation of the natural world, whichever leaders we elect.
Unless, that is, our politicians think again and recognise the rising public anger about the loss of our green spaces.
CPRE has warned repeatedly about the Coalition’s planning policies, arguing that they have made England’s countryside – our priceless national inheritance – more vulnerable than ever.
But the situation is even more worrying now the Opposition has jumped on the same bandwagon: for their ‘right to grow’, read ‘right to sprawl’.
The solution to our urgent housing needs is not to smear housing estates across open countryside, even if they are dolled up as ‘eco-towns’ or ‘garden cities’.
Especially since they probably won’t be affordable to those most in need of a home.
Only by concentrating a building programme on England’s 1.5 million brownfield sites can we meet our triple need: to save the countryside, revitalise our cities, and provide the necessary increase in new homes.
Economic growth continues to be the politicians’ mantra, and fair enough. But we need green growth that respects the environment and our primal connection with the land.
We can’t just go for growth and ignore the reality of climate change, attempting what a Treasury minister has called ‘the biggest programme of infrastructure development since the Victorian era’.
The Victorians didn’t have to think about their carbon footprints. We do. And yet all our politicians’ stories about the growth of infrastructure depend on us consuming more fossil fuels, on building more roads and runways.
Even farming is implicated in this, with wind and solar farms industrialising the countryside they set out to preserve.
So often, this industrialisation simply isn’t necessary. The Energy Minister himself has pointed out that we can meet solar energy targets by installing panels on just 16 per cent of UK commercial and industrial roof-space.
And we can dramatically reduce the amount of energy infrastructure we need – and improve our energy security – by focusing on energy efficiency.
Driven by a dismaying short-termism, our leaders want to embark on a second industrial revolution in order to compete in ‘the global race’.
But the difference in scale alone means we can never compete with the largest economies in the world.
So let’s stop pretending we can, and instead make the most of our own particular, distinctive attributes and advantages.
Maintaining our irreplaceable countryside must lie at the heart of that ambition.
Not just for the sense of benefit and wellbeing that is essential to our humanity, but for good practical reasons as well: for the huge contribution that rural tourism and farming make to the Exchequer.