Posted by: Colin Wiles22/09/2011
Simon Jenkins is a good journalist and a good historian. But it seems that he is also something of a Jekyll and Hyde character.
As Chairman of the National Trust he is running a misleading and dishonest campaign against the government’s sensible planning reforms. The Trust believes that the planning process should be completely neutral and should not promote growth. They don’t appear to want a single scrap of countryside to be built upon, (even though they themselves built 200 homes in the grounds of their Cliveden estate in the heart of the green belt.)
But Simon Jenkins the journalist thinks that London needs a new airport and that it should be built upon the “wilderness” of the North Kent Marshes - much to the annoyance of local countryside campaigners. Writing in the Evening Standard on the 20th September he describes the North Kent marshes as “ a wilderness of marginal farms, oil terminals, squatter settlements and acres of mud and marsh. Is it not the best place for a vast fourth London international airport?”
I was so shocked by this example of double standards that I asked the National Trust to confirm if building a massive airport on the “wilderness” of Kent was their official policy. Their response was: “This article wasn’t written in Simon Jenkins’ capacity as National Trust chairman.” What! Can you imagine the Chair of the HCA lobbying for affordable housing and then writing an article saying that all social housing should be sold off? He would be sacked on the spot.
Simon Jenkins the National Trust Chairman seems to be very badly briefed. In an article in The Times on the 20th Sept he makes a schoolboy howler with his figures, claiming that the green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty represent only 14% of rural England. In fact they represent about 31% of the whole area of England. With the National Parks and SSIS a total of 45 percent of England is protected, and will continue to be protected under the draft National Planning Policy Framework.
In the same article Jenkins goes on to make a couple of ludicrous statements: “Builders are not interested in so-called brownfield sites because they are less desirable.” So builders weren’t interested in Canary Wharf, Westfield and a host of other urban regeneration projects? Has he never heard of Location, Location, Location? Then he writes: “As for defining as “sustainable” anything that yields jobs or profit, this is palpably absurd.” I don’t think the thousands of people engaged in sustainable forestry or organic farming would agree with that statement.
To be honest I’m not quite clear why the National Trust is so engaged in the NPPF fight and why they are being taken so seriously by the Daily Telegraph and others. Not a single National Trust property will be affected by the NPPF proposals, and as I have written before, even if we built 250,000 homes a year for the next ten years only around a third of one percent of countryside would be affected by new housing. I know that many National Trust members are troubled by their latest campaign and will be concerned about the apparent hypocrisy of their Chairman.
The fact is that we will have to build at least 5 million homes over the next twenty years to redress past under-supply and deal with household growth (nearly 6 million new households will form by 2033). No more than 2 to 3 million of these new homes can be built within existing urban areas, which leaves 2 million to be built beyond the urban envelope. That is a long-term reality that countryside campaigners simply cannot ignore. Over the past three weeks I have repeatedly asked the National Trust and the CPRE to point me to their detailed policies on housing and population growth, setting out how they would meet the housing needs of the country. They have declined to do so. The truth is that that they have no credible policies on growth. Their policy is no more sophisticated than “Keep off our Land.” I much prefer Inside Housing’s “Get on our Land” campaign.
The problem is that the voices of the homeless and badly housed are not being heard in this debate. It is the well housed and the well heeled who are dominating the discourse. But the National Trust does not speak for me and I hope it does not speak for you either. As the Trust’s Director General Fiona Reynolds once said, “The Trust, I’ll be honest, can be seen as an organisation that’s middle-class and slightly remote.”
I think that hits the nail on the head.
From Inside out
An independent look at the housing sector and beyond from Colin Wiles