Saturday, 13 November 2010

Why BT musn't get away with their new town plans

BT wants to build 2,000 homes, a health centre, a hotel, a park, a community centre, shops, a café, a pub and two new schools on their land at Martlesham Heath. In other words, a town.
The campaign group No Adastral New Town has done a good job of raising local awareness. I hope they are equally successful when it comes to persuading Suffolk Coastal planners and councillors, and the inevitable public inquiry, not to let BT’s dream become our nightmare.
BT’s purpose, of course, is simply to make money. NANT’s purpose is to prevent them spoiling a bit of still-rural Suffolk for those of us who already live here.
I certainly don’t want the extra bustle, and the extra traffic, that would be caused by having a new town dumped in my back yard.
But my objection isn’t mere nimbyism. And it’s not just about keeping Suffolk special – though of course that’s part of it.
I object in principle to the whole policy of concreting over the countryside.
Of obliterating fields, woods and farmland with yet more soulless new buildings and pollutant roads.
Under the headline “We are murdering our countryside”, the outstanding journalist Trevor Philpott wrote: “After the war we thought our planners would save our countryside. But the bulldozers move over the farmland as relentlessly as ever. The new ‘estates’ spread, like a rash, over the meadows…”
If that was true in July 1954, when that Picture Post article appeared, how much truer is it now after 56 years more pillage?
In 1954 there was at least an excuse.
There was a need still for new homes to replace old ones flattened by Hitler’s bombs.
There was still a need, too, for people to be moved out of decaying Victorian slums and into better housing. Post-war council housing, on the whole, did a pretty good job of that.
But somewhere along the way politicians (and, of course, builders) got addicted to the idea that it is always necessary to keep building more and more houses.
According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, about 21 square miles of English countryside is lost every year to concrete and asphalt.
Since 1954 England’s population has risen by 19 per cent. The loss of land to development has been much greater than that.
Those who want to cash in talk, as they always will, about the “need” for new homes. But what need?
A few questions need to be answered urgently while we still have enough farmland to feed ourselves.
Why must be build new homes when in every town and city so many perfectly serviceable older ones stand empty?
Why must we build new towns instead of making the old ones liveable again?
And – most relevant of all to Suffolk – why do we go on letting wealthy folk from other parts buy up our best houses as “second homes” when there are local people needing first homes?
In 1940, the year of the Blitz, architect Ralph Tubbs designed an exhibition, Living In Cities, to consider what post-war Britain should look like.
In a fascinating accompanying brochure, he wrote: “The advocates of garden cities do not face up to the problems of introducing fresh air and sunshine, trees and open space into the decayed towns of today.
“Dissatisfied with the existing chaos of cities, they start new centres, which are neither town nor country, but little patches of suburbia. They leave the existing cities to rot.”
Tubbs wanted cities to live, not rot. He wanted the countryside to live too.
He was a visionary (who incidentally despised the kind of sham architecture that Prince Charles now champions). It’s a tragedy his vision continues to be ignored.


GEORGE W BUSH says “waterboarding” wasn’t torture. So it’s OK, then, to keep pushing people to the very edge of drowning.
It was legal, says GW, “because a lawyer said it was legal”.
But then, when you’re president of the United States you can probably find a lawyer to tell you anything you want to hear. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what someone under torture will tell you.
Not the truth. Not anything useful. Just exactly what they think you want to hear.
Which is why torture – legal or not, humane or not – is fundamentally useless.
And that is one reason I disbelieve GW’s claim that waterboarding saved British lives by preventing attacks on London.
The other reason I disbelieve it is GW’s own record with the truth.
As I have pointed out over the years to a variety of small children, if you keep telling lies people eventually stop believing what you say.
There’s a story Bush should read, about a boy and a wolf.
But does it matter now if he’s still telling porkies?
He’s yesterday’s man. Finished. No point in knocking him down again, surely?
The point isn’t about Bush himself. He’s no longer important.
What is important is to nail the lie. To stop him infecting future generations with the pernicious idea that torture can ever be justified.


Suzanne said...

I only just read this a little late.
When I was 18 in 1957 we obtained a council flat built on a brownfield site just at the end of the future M1. We came from South Harrow where houses were occupied by two families all down our road.
Luckily for us and for everyone the estate was very small. There are still brown fields within walking distance.
My godmother lived in Olney, Bucks. I remember her complaining that the small town had changed beyond recognition.
So I know what you are talking about here.

As for Bush... you said it all.

Aidan Semmens said...

Olney was still a lovely little place when I visited the William Cowper museum there in the 1970s, Suzanne. On the other hand, the nearby little village of Milton Keynes had changed somewhat since the 1950s...