Boles – Dont Worry

BBC News reports on DCLG Committee Hearing yesterday.  Also on Telgraph, but as its behind their expat hating firewall I cant report on it.

The amount of built-upon land in England is “not worryingly high”, Planning Minister Nick Boles has said.

In a committee hearing, Mr Boles was asked about his recent remarks on BBC Newsnight, when he said building on another 2-3% of the land in England would “solve the housing problem”.

He said he had been “making an argument about how little developed this country actually is”.

There was scope to build on “land that nobody cares about”, he added.

As he appeared before the Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Boles was called upon by committee member and Conservative MP John Stevenson to provide “evidence” to justify his position.

Mr Boles replied that he had been trying to draw attention to “how little land would be required to completely solve, for the foreseeable future, any housing need at all”.

Even south-east England, he argued, was “not heavily developed”.

“That doesn’t accord with our experience because most of the way we see the countryside is driving, and needless to say settlements are close to roads,” he explained.

In fact, there was “plenty of brownfield land, empty homes and sites on scrubby land that nobody cares about” on which to build new houses, he said.

But he emphasised that it was not coalition policy to set “any kind of target, plan or expectation of what would happen, or might happen or needs to happen over the next 10, 20 or 30 years”.

He also argued that criticism of the figures he had produced in the Newsnight programme was baseless.

Thanks to “without question the most accurate survey of development in this country”, it was beyond doubt that 8.9% of England was developed, he suggested.

“That means – thank God, hallelujah, and I’m grateful for the fact – that 91% of England is countryside.”

He asked the committee: “Isn’t that fantastic? Doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t be too worried about meeting our housing challenge?”

Surely it is how people the experience the countryside the matters, and most people will experience it from roads and heavily urbanised/suburbanised settlements.  The % approach is meaningless.  Dont worry said the doctor, im giving you a 3% solution of arsenic  its a fatal dose but its only 3%.

The presentation of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Land Cover Analysis is simplistic and just plane wrongheaded.

Firstly as the UK NEA land cover analysis includes all habitat types it includes marine and estuary areas to the low water mark, so the ‘non urban’ areas in the stats are not countryside, but includes the sea.   It is unclear if Boles is only using terrestrial data.   Secondly it includes non urban land covers within urban areas which plainly are not countryside, such as parks and railway embankments.  the best estimate of urban coverage is the ONS official urban/rural boundary maps, now being revised, which at last count showed around 12% of England being urban


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