So Andrew Motion, the president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, acknowledges there are “issues” with housing (“Tory rural raid will ruin countryside, says Andrew Motion”, News. Indeed there are. Hundreds of thousands of families are overcrowded and soaring rents and house prices are plunging ever more people into poverty and exacerbating inequality. Yet he is filled with “horror and anger” not at these “issues”, but at the thought of releasing modest amounts of land for housing.
In spelling out the need for more development, planning minister Nick Boles is speaking a simple truth, while Motion’s knee-jerk nimbyism, maintaining the fiction that our housing crisis can be met without any tough political choices, building only on previously developed brownfield land, is a prime example of way in which those who are very comfortable in their own homes have conspired to deprive others of decent housing at a price they can afford.
Cllr Ed Turner
Deputy leader (Labour)
Oxford City Council
Regardless of the fact that the easing of rural planning is a “Tory” proposal, we should not forget that it was the dispossession of the rural poor by the enclosures and clearances that helped to create Britain’s relatively depopulated countryside and overcrowded cities. Today, the less well-off are often forced out of the countryside by, among others, middle-class, second-home owners and wealthier retirees.
Motion seems to have a Wordsworthian sense of the countryside as a place for leisurely contemplation rather than as a working and living environment.
This argument is not new. DH Lawrence complained bitterly about the overcrowded housing conditions of mining communities in rural areas, when so much space was potentially available, and contrasted this environment with the beautiful villages of Italy and France (so beloved of our literati).
So, Nick Boles, the berated Tory minister, is right that rural building can be attractive. What is aesthetically pleasing, or environmentally beneficial, about the agricultural monoculture or vast open fields of many rural areas and what is humane about squashing people into brownfield sites?
Whether a Tory government or big-business builders can be trusted with our countryside is another question, but if artificially inflated building land prices can be forced down through less restrictive planning laws, then a rural renaissance, and affordable housing, is a real possibility. How to bring that about is the real issue.
David Cameron has been personally warned by a group of his MPs that he risks losing seats to the Liberal Democrats at the next election unless he takes on anti-environmental “dog whistling” from Tory ministers.
A group of 12 “Turquoise Tories” met the Prime Minister in Downing Street last week to express their concerns that some ministers, including the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the Energy Minister John Hayes, are killing off the Conservatives’ green agenda with anti-wind farm rhetoric and allowing Nick Clegg’s party to take the credit for coalition environmentalism.
The latest salvo in the coalition’s battle over the environment came yesterday when Mr Paterson told a newspaper that wind turbines were “inappropriate technology which matured in the Middle Ages” and were “doing real damage” to areas of British countryside.
The Prime Minister attempted to stave off a “Turquoise rebellion” by asking the group to put forward new ideas on renewable energy and other environmental measures for Mr Cameron to push in the New Year.
The 12 included Tim Yeo, the chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, Ben Gummer and Laura Sandys, a ministerial aide to the Climate Change Minister Greg Barker. A number of MPs also attended who are not known for their pro-green stance but are thought to be concerned about the Government missing out on investment in the low carbon economy. They included Gordon Henderson, Andrew Percy and Peter Aldous. Nicola Blackwood, who was not present at the meeting but is also understood to have concerns, has a 176-vote majority over the Lib Dems in Oxford West and Abingdon.
A source said: “There are concerns that the whole green agenda is being contracted to the Lib Dems, that we are failing to carve out a distinct Tory agenda on green issues and that we have gone back on our manifesto pledges. It’s important that we stick to our green guns.”
Yet any attempt by the Prime Minister to renew his pledge to “vote blue, go green” will be met with scepticism among environmentalists. He recently blocked the appointment of David Kennedy, the chief executive of the government’s Climate Change Committee, as permanent secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Last week, Mr Osborne gave the go-ahead for tax breaks for shale gas extraction.
The Government’s Gas Strategy, published last week, reveals plans to dismantle the government’s future climate change targets. The document suggests ministers are planning to revise upwards the fourth carbon budget, agreed in 2011, which sets out targets for carbon emissions between 2023 and 2027.
At the same time, the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that energy prices will continue to rise, sending gas and electricity bills soaring. Labour’s Energy spokeswoman, Caroline Flint, said: “With warnings of more price hikes to come, it’s clearer than ever why we need to break the dominance of the energy giants, open up the energy market and create a tough new energy regulator with the power to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers.”