Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Brown Job

I can scarcely bring myself to think about Bruin's plot to relax planning controls, and what that will mean for further emasculation of local democracy, for undermining sustainability and for generally screwing up the environment at every level - from what happens to the countryside in general to what happens in your neighbour's garden. 'Let's be like the French', the government cries. 'They get things done without any inconvenient public debate.' How very New Labour.

Holding up France as an exemplar for planning policy is like citing Attila the Hun as a trauma counsellor. France has a population density of around 110 persons per square kilometre. They have more land to lay waste, and fewer people to object to it. In England population density is three times greater, at around 377 per sq km in 2001 (and rising by about 7% per decade). The South East is nearly four times more crowded, with 420 persons per sq km. Kent, Essex and Hampshire are the most populated non-metropolitan counties in the country. Whatever the faults of our planning system, it has helped to manage relentless growth whilst maintaining the distinction between town and country, and it has struck a balance between the often conflicting interests of economic growth and the environment.

Now, it seems, the soon-to-be-former chancellor (who is about as English as cloutie dumpling) plans to shift the balance in favour of fiscal growth and centralised decision-making. This is the environmental equivalent of stop-start economic policy without a clutch, and I predict that an awful lot of damage is going to be done in a very short space of time. And that, by the time we wake up to it, the irreversible harm that has been done to the environment which we hold in trust for future generations will be a cause for everlasting regret.

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