River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Land Utilisation

August 2015

The Airport Commission, inquiring into the provision of further airport capacity in the South-east, headed by Sir Howard Davies, concluded what has been obvious for years – that a third runway should be constructed at Heathrow. Of course the Commission was only set up in the first place as an expensive means of stalling so that our politicians could delay making a decision, as they have been doing for years, solely for political reasons. Both major Parties are aware that extending Heathrow will be extremely unpopular with a significant number of voters in an area that is normally fairly evenly balanced politically, and they have consistently put their Party above the needs of the country. It will be interesting to see what action the government will take now that the report has been published. I will not be surprised if they find some other way of avoiding making the decision themselves, perhaps having a free vote in the House. This is all fairly typical of a British disease. Individuals, parochial organisations, Local Authorities and politicians will oppose changes that are necessary for the common good, for self-interest or political reasons and progress is being stifled as a consequence. The CPRE are among the ringleaders in non-governmental organisations opposing changes. NIMBYism rules. A regular cry is that the UK is being concreted over and that the countryside is vanishing, it is claimed that the demands for hundreds of thousands of new homes is going to make matters much worse. A recent report by Leicester University, headed by Professor Balzter appears, at first glance, to add support to these claims. Farmland, forests and wetlands are being cleared to make way for housing and other developments including mineral extraction, solar farms, wind farms, golf courses etc. It was reported that no less than 224,200 hectares of land was transformed between 2006 and 2012. Actually, because the method of measurement could not include developments of 5 hectares or less, the real total would be somewhat greater. A more detailed look at the report however shows that the area converted to artificial surfaces – i.e. housing, commercial buildings, airfields, railways, roads and motorways etc – was 22000 hectares, presumably the remaining 202,000 are potentially capable of restoration to farmland, forest, fenland, or whatever it was before, and have not been lost irretrievably. What may be a little surprising to some people, however, is that the total area of land covered by artificial surfaces in the UK, this includes all the urban conurbations, the whole of Greater London, Manchester, Birmingham et al, rural housing, motorways, airfields etc, is no more than 8% of the UK. 57% of the land area is agricultural. It also seems that some of the area included in the 224,200 hectares of ‘transformed land’ is forest clearing to be used for regrowth, but during the period studied clearing exceeded the area used for regrowth. One might conclude that the overall impact on total land utilisation from the building of the homes that are urgently required is truly negligible. Ron Watts

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