Readers, I am alarmed. If we are to believe the scare stories being announced by town criers across the kingdom, the massed hordes of planners are advancing on our ancient landscapes. In the name of “sustainable housing” and “giving the economy a boost”, this land we love is under threat…
“Oh no”, cry the commoners who govern this land, sitting in their hall in Westminster. “This is a disortion of the truth. Planning laws are being relaxed but have no fear.” Readers, I do have fear – and plenty of it. Verily, land must be made available for people to live but is the blight of the average and its footprint on the land which I bemoan.
On my travels of Le Gringalet, I see many beautiful buildings, monuments and ancient vistas dotted across the landscape. These are the result of slow change; hidden in lanes whose routes follow ancient land boundaries laid down in my own time and beyond. But modern “development” pays no head to the beauty of gradual change: it brutalises the land and casts dung upon the exquisite.
Planners and government know that when the chips are down, they can argue the needs of the masses against the “NIMBYism” of the few. They expect us to believe that another “stunning development” is anything other than a statement of the average and banal. They care not for lack of proportion, the lines of exact properties built to the lowest price, the starkness of the stultified imagination of an unsympathetic architect.
Modern development has no sense of the vernacular, of localism, or of landscape. It is a monster created by dull individuals whose sense of purpose is governed by the standardised computer package of an architect’s CAD system.
Worse, these developments are dressed up as something to celebrate as if they are for the national good. Alas, these measures highlight yet again the failure of a genuine economic system. Building houses is a short term employement solution which will do nothing for the long term good of the land and which also serves to perpetuate the ever-growing population, expanding on the back of decadence, immorality and a lack of social cohesion.
In today’s Daily Telegraph, now available in modern English as well as the so-called “middle” English I prefer, we read of a consultation taking place between government and the National Trust. The paper is launching a “Hands off our Land” campaign too. The problem, as I see it, is not just one of threats to marquee beauty like grand landscapes and woodlands but a threat to the intimate. This is the far greater threat and glibly ignored by politicians desperate to kick start an economy, irrespective of consequence.
In an English village, next to a pond… In that ancient paddock… Down some crooked lane bent by time… In the fields bounded by strange woodbanks… These are the places where planning law will reach and choose to ignore the beauty which we take for granted. The footprint of “sustainable” development will stamp on a landscape which has, until the last few decades, been defined by where we have gone before.
In the future, the story of how Britain has grown – mapped out in field systems, lanes, woodlands, deer parks, ancient walls and twisting hedges – will be unintelligible to a future society yet further cut off from its cultural past. This is a cause for deep concern.
In his book, The Making of the British Landscape, Francis Pryor argues that urban sprawl has proved so efficient in Britain that it only accounts for 9% of the land but the majority of the population. He argues we have nothing to fear because towns and cities are very good at controlling “sprawl” by developing inherent economies.
This may indeed be so. But the urban sprawl he supports has been controlled for years by robust planning regulations. Soon, if the House of Lords and common sense don’t intervene, the real beauty of the British landscape – the intimacy of its gradual development – will be gone for ever. And with it, any reason for anyone to visit the country and to see its greatest assets.