Magazine article The Spectator

Outer and Inner Space

Magazine article The Spectator

Outer and Inner Space

Article excerpt

REMAKING THE LANDSCAPE edited by Jennifer Jenkins Profile Books, L20, pp. 298, ISBN 1861973756

This collection of essays is timely, often sensible, sometimes stimulating and sometimes maddeningly one-sided. Jennifer Jenkins certainly succeeds in her aim with this book, which is meant to make us think about planning and the countryside.

The government projects that by 2221 we will need another 3.8 million new homes, mainly for single people. Population growth in the UK has slowed to 200,000 or so per annum, but living patterns are changing. The number of households has risen dramatically as family size has fallen, and more and more people live alone.

How are new homes to be provided without ruining the landscape? Under Thatcher, planning was relaxed and suburbs and supermarkets crept into the countryside. In an otherwise admirable essay, David Cannadine points the finger at my father Nicholas Ridley for deregulating planning. But in spite of Thatcherite policies Britain still manages to house 90 per cent of its population on a mere 6 per cent of its land.

Most of us live in so-called Megalopolis Britain which, John I. Clarke explains, is the densely populated urban axial belt bulging like middle-age spread from the south coast via London to Merseyside, thickening all the time as it absorbs towns such as Milton Keynes, Reading, Swindon and Cambridge. Drive along the motorways of Megalopolis and you would think that the countryside is vanishing altogether, but to the north and west the land is empty. This north-south divide will grow, as Crispin Tickell shows, because of climate change, which will make the south-east hotter and the north even wetter and cooler than it is already.

People have been moving out of the cities and commuting to work from the suburbs. The consequence has been an astonishing increase in car traffic, which has grown by two-thirds since 1980. Making life hell for car drivers is now official policy in cities like London. Transport expert David Bannister argues the fashionable case for `sustainable development', i.e. high-density housing which protects the environment by banning cars. The idea is to create car-free areas in cities and provide affordable, single-person urban homes. …

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