Reading CPRE’s response to the Lyons Housing Review prompts the thought that good ideas can lose political currency for no good reason. I wrote in an earlier blog about the way in which the Government has simply chosen to ignore the evidence that building new roads is not the solution to congestion. A long-standing political and academic consensus has been abandoned without explanation. Perhaps the Government just got bored of the evidence. Continue reading ‘The case for urbanism: reminding Labour what it stood for’
Princess Anne’s speech on housing yesterday seems to have united the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and CPRE. Royalty can do that sort of thing.
The Princess is quoted in today’s Telegraph as asking: “Is it really necessary to only think in terms of large scale developments?… Maybe it isn’t such good value if you have to build in the facilities that need to go with it. You will need a new school, you will need new shops, you will need to create a community centre, but for many of the small scale developments you already have those.”
Building in existing villages, she said, was cheaper and would also help villages survive and keep their shops, pubs and schools.
The HBF has welcomed Princess Anne’s words, even though they explicitly pose an alternative to the sort of large-scale developments its members favour. In response I said: “We want a living countryside, not a countryside of commuter villages or retirement ghettos. Continue reading ‘The Royal Blog: growing villages, new settlements, and the third way’
Kaleidoscope City: Reflections on Planning and London, edited by Jonathan Manns, was published a couple of weeks ago. The book is part of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s centenary celebrations, and can be downloaded here. It is also available as an i-book or download for Kobo (or, if you must use Amazon, Kindle).
There are chapters by London historian Jerry White; architects Richard Rogers and Terry Farrell; Liz Peace of the British Property Federation; Peter Hall; and many others. I intend to write on some of these in a future blog. An abridged version of my essay on the Green Belt (with thanks to CPRE’s Oliver Hilliam) is here. It tries to make the case for the Green Belt in terms of its contribution to London’s vibrancy, as much as its role in protecting the countryside.
People often ask why CPRE is based in London. The main answer, of course, is that power is concentrated (over-concentrated) in London and we exist to influence those in power. But it is also the case that we protect the countryside for everyone, not just those who live in it. Londoners need the countryside as much as anyone, and Londoners were instrumental in founding CPRE in 1926. As the historian Howard Newby has written, the inter-war preservation movement was ‘a strange amalgam of patrician landowners… and socially-concerned Fabians (Hampstead dwellers, but keen hikers on the Downs) who believed in the pursuit of social justice through national planning’.
They set out to create a planning system that would ensure a clear distinction between town and country. And for all our worries about countryside loss and degradation, they were phenomenally successful. The English landscape was created by man and nature over thousands of years, but in the last hundred years we have had the capacity to destroy it, and it almost miraculous that we have not done so.
Nowhere is this achievement greater than in the containment of London, Cobbett’s ‘Great Wen’. Continue reading ‘A Green Belt for London’
Here is a slightly expanded version of my column for the next issue of the Countryman, available in all good newsagents.
CPRE’s former President Bill Bryson is always amused by the English fascination with the weather. “To an outsider,” he once wrote, “the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it.” Well, I think even Bill would concede that we have had quite a lot of ‘weather’ recently.
Whether the extreme weather that has become more commonplace is down to man-made climate change continues to be questioned, though not by many climate scientists: those who know most tend to worry most.
But whatever the cause of the extreme weather of recent years, we should expect more of it. Continue reading ‘The floods: some long-term thinking needed’
Here is my column in February’s Countryman. I wrote it when Danny Alexander was boasting about the biggest road building programme since the 1970s. The Government now says it is planning the biggest roads programme for 50 years.
Anyone who has ever been stuck in traffic has probably mused on how much faster they would go if only the road had an extra lane. Now the Government is promising the biggest road-building programme since the 1970s. In particular, it proposes that all major A Roads should be dual carriageways (though without being quite clear how this will be funded).
Some of the policy, such as the emphasis on maintaining roads as well as building them, is welcome. Survey after survey shows that motorists (not to mention cyclists) hate potholes even more than congestion. And there is a commitment to quieter road surfaces and less intrusive lighting.
But the central proposition – that new roads relieve congestion and are needed because of growing demand – is disastrously wrong. There is a wealth of evidence that new roads quickly fill up, leaving congestion as bad as before. This may not accord with the common sense of the fuming motorist in a traffic jam, but it has been accepted by policy makers for twenty years. Now, without explanation, the evidence is to be disregarded: new roads are back in fashion. Continue reading ‘New Roads: junking the evidence’
Today’s Times carries a story that CPRE is reconsidering its support for high speed rail. This is true, though if we do change our line it will be a board decision.
CPRE’s conditional support for HS2 has been unpopular with many members – see some of the comments on my previous two blogs on the subject – but that is not why we are having second thoughts. The reason is that it is increasingly hard to see HS2 as any sort of green project. I continue to think that HS2’s long-term benefits to the countryside and the wider environment could outweigh the harm it will inevitably cause, but it is doubtful whether the Government believes this, or cares. Continue reading ‘HS2: just another infrastructure project?’
Rather late in the day I’ve caught up with Chris Huhne’s article on housing in this morning’s Guardian. It offers a masterclass in how to frame a reasonable argument (we need a big increase in house building) in a way that will alienate many of those you want to persuade.
Huhne says we need new towns in the south east, but that the PM is running scared of “losing nimby votes in the Tory heartlands. Without new towns, the coalition has only a partial answer. The loosening of planning controls has been half-hearted and ineffective…. Some of the cheapest housing of any major city in the US is in Houston, Texas, where there are no planning controls. The tougher the planning controls, the higher are house prices.”
Where to begin – the assumption that new towns (if needed) must be in the south east; the dreary dismissal of opponents of development as ‘nimby’; the invocation of Texan planning laws as some sort of model for Britain?… Continue reading ‘A masterclass from Chris Huhne: how not to win an argument’