We must protect England's green beltsUnited Kingdom
At last, we are finally hearing noises from the government which suggest an understanding that the natural environment should be valued for its intrinsic – and irreplaceable – benefits.
The environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, is right to show concern for the "piecemeal degradation" of the countryside, which shows no sign of abating despite best efforts of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to create, and then defend, a democratic planning system which does not pit nature against development but seeks to represent the interests of both.
One of her predecessors, David Miliband, in a speech to the CPRE in 2007, cited the need to avoid "a salami-slicing approach to land-use" where such piecemeal development is used to justify future development, where "we would soon discover that a magnificent national and international asset had been eroded to a sad remnant of land – and the argument for complete development would be unstoppable".
This approach is unfortunate but depressingly familiar. This is why the jewels of land-use planning such as green belts and national parks are so important, and why they must remain sacrosanct, as pillars of any new approach to natural environmental protection.
Many people are familiar with the sprawl experienced by Los Angeles in the last century. Had London grown at the same pace and density – and without the check of the metropolitan green belt from 1938 - it would have engulfed Oxford, with probably only a wedge of South Downs keeping it from merging with Brighton. Since CPRE's inauguration 84 years ago, we have seen a slowing of overt destruction of the countryside, replaced by a steady "nibbling away", as industry and commerce use their lobbying might and prey on the constant need for governments to be seen to deliver economic growth.
Green belts don't just prevent sprawl – most UK towns and cities with a green belt have retained their unique character, and in the case of Bath, York and Oxford, a magnificent landscape setting – but have also saved acres of precious countryside for farming and leisure. The joint CPRE/Natural England surveys on the state of our green belts in 2010 revealed that they serve 88% of the population (45 million people) living in urban areas within green belt boundaries, and 95% of people value the beauty of the green belt.
Their value as farmland is huge, containing as they do an equivalent amount of prime agricultural land to the rest of England, and being ideally placed to provide local produce to cities, reduce food miles and develop more food security and healthier diets. And of course, green belt land naturally tackles climate change through carbon storage, cooling the "heat island" effect of cities and providing flood protection.
England is a densely populated country, one of the most built-up in the world. Its countryside, our most vital and valuable asset, is fragmenting and diminishing each year as roads, extensions to towns and major infrastructure alter its character irretrievably.
It's often stated that only 10% of the countryside is built up, but CPRE's work to map the "intrusion" of development in rural areas shows that over half of the country is disturbed by the sights and sounds of development. That figure was just 25% in the early 1960s. Even in some of the most beautiful and remote places, it can be impossible to enjoy natural green space without seeing roads, buildings and pylons, hearing the roar of traffic and aeroplanes, or breathing in the pollution of industry and transport.
Really, the only way for the government to deliver the kind of environmental protection it wants at the same time as building a truly green economy is through a democratic planning system, one which gives equal weight to environmental and economic considerations, and involves people in decisions about development. To this end, the government must ensure that different departments are talking to each other as they begin the twin processes of reforming the planning system and environmental protection. For either to work, they will have to be developed as part of a holistic strategy, with the needs of landscape and people at its heart.
El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.
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