Final thoughts from Shaun Spiers
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this blog. There have been some very thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions. We at CPRE are keen to continue the debate and play our part in forging a new national consensus on land use.
Among the many interesting points raised in the postings are the following.
- There is support for the idea of ‘greening the green belt’. It would be useful to know how much money is now spent on improving the value of green belt land, and how much more could be committed in the future. The green belt is much loved and much used. A special national fund to improve its and increase its use could capture people’s imagination and pay dividends in terms of people’s health and wellbeing. It would demonstrate more effectively than words that the Government really is serious about protecting the green belt. And it needn’t necessarily require new spending if various existing funds were channelled towards green belt improvement.
- Several contributors have mentioned the desirability of the Government working to spread development more evenly across the country, rather than simply accepting that the wider south east will see most development. As anyone looking at the history of regional policy will know, this is easier said than done. But a commitment to respecting environmental limits suggests that there may be no choice but to say ‘no’ to further development in some places. As David Miliband’s speech suggests, planning policy can be a powerful tool in shaping how and where development happens.
- Andy Yuille’s posting suggests that making the concept of environmental capacity the driver of the planning process will improve the decision-making process. It would help achieve the genuine integration – rather than balancing – of social, economic and environmental ends that is the aim of the Sustainable Development Strategy.
- A growing population is taken as a given by decision-makers. The Prime Minister has rejected the idea of a population policy and the debate on immigration and population is almost invariably framed in terms of economic competitiveness and social cohesion. But it is important to remember that a rising population has significant implications for the environment, not least in terms of land use.
One question addressed in many of the postings is whether you can be serious about climate change and, at the same time, sceptical about the need for a massive expansion in the number and scale of onshore wind turbines.
Here David Miliband’s notion of the ‘two cultures’ in the environment movement – those principally concerned with nature and those principally concerned with landscape – is interesting. In fact, that division is much less serious than it once was. Green groups co-operate very constructively within Wildlife and Countryside Link. But as one of the contributors to the debate on David’s speech in CPRE’s policy committee remarked, there is a danger of a new cultural divide opening between environmentalism (too often reduced to the single issue of climate change) and conservation.
That would be a great pity. David Miliband’s speech is evidence that he realises that it’s not all about climate change. David Cameron’s recent ‘beyond climate change’ speech made a similar point. And CPRE doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a conservationist rather than an environmental organisation. We’re both. And we also recognise that climate change is the overriding threat facing the planet. We may have supporters who deny the link between human behaviour and climate change (something that could not, I would guess, be said about Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth) but as an organisation we are supporters of Stop Climate Chaos (www.stopclimatechaos.org) and very serious about climate change.
However, we reject the slide from acknowledging that climate change is the overriding threat facing the planet to the proposition that it is necessary to accept any measure claiming to mitigate it. The urge to do something about climate change is strong. Wind farms can stand as symbols of a gleaming, green future. And they can play a part in reducing carbon emissions, which is why CPRE’s policy – http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/natural-resources – supports wind turbines in the right places, and why CPRE branches have probably supported more wind farm proposals than they have opposed. But as Susan Owens said in her response to David Miliband’s speech, “we shouldn’t be putting wind farms in wild locations so that we can continue to drive and take cheap flights as much as we want to”. An illustration of this argument can be seen on the Glyndebourne website, which has a lot of information about the opera house’s plans for a wind turbine in the South Downs, and a smaller section on the facilities available to patrons arriving by helicopter.
As the Government drafts the forthcoming Planning White Paper, we urge it to avoid the temptation to weaken the planning system when it comes to taking decisions about onshore wind farms. People have legitimate concerns about their effects on much-loved landscapes. They should be listened to. They also have legitimate concerns that the landscape should not be industrialised, to questionable effect in terms of climate change mitigation, while airport and road expansions continue. Denying people a say over wind farms through a democratic and responsive planning system will breed cynicism about the political process and be ultimately counter-productive.
Indeed, as this blog suggests, the whole question of onshore wind can become a huge distraction from more important issues – more important in terms of landscape and more important for the environment. David Miliband made only passing reference to wind farms in his speech, but many of the responses focus on this one issue. For years the national debate on the countryside was dominated by the side-issue of fox-hunting. I hope the next few years don’t come to be dominated by battles over wind energy.
Again, many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this blog – and a big thank you to David Miliband for his speech and for agreeing to respond to the comments in this blog. We hope that the debate will continue and that we will move towards a greater shared national understanding of how we use and value our land.