All posts tagged: NFU
It’s only February and already a drought is forecast for many parts of England with farmers predicting a shortage of key crops and rising food prices as a result. Whatever your views on man-made climate change there is no doubt that our weather is changing; the eastern region, for example, has had only a quarter of its average February rainfall. But apart from the lack of rain, it’s also the case that, as a country, we are hopeless at storing and conserving our water resources. Last year I went to the Alpujarras region of southern Spain where the locals use an ingenious system of water-channels called acequias (first built by the Moors) to irrigate their terraced fields. They also have a widespread network of water tanks, both covered and open, called albergas, which allows them to harvest water during times of plenty and use it up over the hot dry summers.
By contrast, farmers in the UK store very little water. Almost all irrigation comes from local rivers and streams and this has been growing by 2 per cent annually, leading to amenity and wildlife problems in the lower reaches of watercourses. Farmers need to be encouraged to build on-farm water tanks, like the albergas system and they need to be doing it now. Of course, the NFU blames a lack of subsidy and a bureaucratic planning system for this failure to respond to changes in climate.
The housing sector also has a responsibility to think more seriously about water conservation and longer-term climate change. Do you remember the old “Brick in the Cistern” advertising campaign? We need to be getting across the message that water is as precious as air and food – encouraging tenants to use water wisely and using grey water to on their gardens. Apparently, we all use 145 litres each day, and a typical house roof could harvest 85,000 litres of rainwater each year.We also need to look more seriously at building grey water systems into new and existing homes and providing free water butts for sheds and outbuildings.
In the longer term, our response to climate change requires a clear vision and a strategy. I wrote about this five years ago in a report called “The Future is Unwritten – Looking towards 2050”, which was launched at a CIH Eastern conference (available on request!). In the future, it is likely that more people will die of heat than hypothermia, so this means “cooling” our properties using heat-absorbing and reflecting materials, and creating cooler sitting out areas, perhaps with water features. Subsidence could become a bigger problem and we could experience flash flooding and gustier winds. Our housing stock will need to be able to cope with more extreme weather, so asset management strategies need to be re-written. New homes in flood plains could incorporate undercrofts so that they can cope with rising water.
On a positive note, we can expect balmier temperatures and lower fuel bills as temperatures rise. But doing nothing is not an option. Smart housing providers will be planning for these longer-term changes. Are you?
I have to hand it to the National Trust for running an exemplary campaign against the draft National Planning Policy Framework. They wrote to every one of their 4 million members and issued hundreds of daily appeals and tweets during the three months of the consultation period. They effectively hijacked the debate on planning and their backers in the right-wing press, mainly the Mail and the Telegraph, banged the drum on their behalf. By contrast, supporters of the NPPF like the Home Builders Federation, the CIH, the NFU, the CLA and the NHF were relatively silent. Yet at the end of it all the Trust obtained the signatures of just 4 per cent of their members, a paltry 200,000 signatures, for their oxymoronic “Planning for People” petition.
So lots of sound and fury but not signifying very much. Government ministers have not backed down on the broad thrust of the NPPF and although the NPPF only applies to England David Cameron has pledged to protect the “beautiful British landscape” from development (which presumably means that the less than beautiful parts of the landscape will not be protected!)
So far so good for developers and those in housing need.
But the failure of the Trust’s tub-thumping shows that the planning process remains a remote and alien concept for most people. It is because the planning system is hard to understand (it is something that is done to us rather than by us) that the National Trust had to resort to scaremongering tactics to agitate their members. They repeatedly used images of ancient woodland and rolling countryside in their propaganda as if these areas were at risk from development, when clearly they are not. They know very well that if they had instead told the truth and said: “We need to build 5 million homes over the next twenty years and this may mean building on about 1% of the unprotected, and therefore not particularly attractive scrubland that surrounds our towns and cities” they would have garnered even less support.
This view of planning being the preserve of an elite is reflected in a recent poll of 416 local government councillors, carried out by ComRes. 64 per cent of them felt there was a lack of robust evidence of public opinion in planning discussions, and 75 per cent of councillors believe that the “silent majority” is excluded from debate about planning issues. The silent majority was defined as those who are “perhaps likely to benefit from new homes or use the facilities provided by development, but are less likely to participate in the planning process than the more vocal minority, who can object vigorously to proposals”.
The real tragedy of the NPPF consultation process is that the countryside has dominated the debate. Why has this been allowed to happen? Planning is overwhelmingly about cities. 90% of us live in towns and cities and the future of our planet depends upon the sustainability and success of city living. For the vast majority of people the issues that pre-occupy them are urban issues – the quality of life in their neighbourhoods, the trains and roads that will get them to work, the quality and affordability of their housing, the quality of local services like schools, healthcare, parks and open spaces. Most people have little interest in the countryside, and as the National Trust has itself said, many people are wary of venturing too far into the countryside for fear of encountering a “No Trespassers” sign or an angry farmer. The Withnail and I view of the countryside resonates with many urban dwellers.
The NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development was the issue that engendered such a knicker-twisting frenzy within the National Trust. Yet amidst all this hysteria the many positive aspects of the NPPF have been ignored. These include: the clear structure of local and neighbourhood plans; the potential for planning to become a genuinely participative and democratic process; the potential for neighbourhood development orders to give communities real power and influence over planning decisions and to capture the benefits of development for their own area; the chance to build the number of new homes we need, at last; the opportunities to green our cities, to make them more vibrant and provide sustainable transport systems.
All of this has been lost in what I consider to be a selfish and self-obsessed countryside campaign. It is interesting that bodies who really understand the countryside, like the NFU and the CLA, support the NPPF. They know that the countryside has to change and develop if it is not to stagnate.
I think it is time for the National Trust and their supporters to pipe down for a while and allow the silent majority, the town and city dwellers who have the most to gain from the NPPF, to have their say.