Fringe Box



Letter: Is Endless Urban Development Really Inevitable?

Published on: 5 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 5 Jul, 2015

housing picFrom Ben Paton

In his letter Let The Planners Plan – Some Expansion Is Inevitable is Mr Neogi really saying that the solution is an optimistic frame of mind and trust in planning departments?

Would not some very careful examination of the facts, rational thought and respect for the rule of law take us rather further?

It does not take the analysis further to say that 97% of the land mass of the UK is ‘countryside’. Much of that land is unsuitable for human habitation or development. Most is more suited to exploitation as forestry or farmland than for building urban environments.

Of the subset of land which is suitable as sites of potentially sustainable development, by far the majority has already been developed. The fact is that people want to live in the south east of England not in the Outer Hebrides. To satisfy demand to live in the SE might easily result in it being concreted over in a Los Angeles type sprawl down to the south coast.

The pricing system, which is very imperfect, currently presents enormous profits to those who can develop land. That does not mean that development is the best or most sustainable use of the land. It simply means that the short term pricing system incentivises people to try very hard to develop some land – often regardless of its sustainability.

Is it really the case that urban expansion can continue for ever?

Is human population growth inevitable? If it is inevitable, is it sustainable? A great book by Carlo Cippola, An Economic History of World Population, sets out the historic facts.

It is a fact that UK’s population growth is rather low and that population growth elsewhere for example in north Africa is very high.

It is not inevitable that they should all come to the UK to live. Nor would it be sustainable if all the people who aspire to live in the UK came here. If everyone tries to crowd onto a small boat it first becomes unstable and then it sinks.

It is entirely right and proper that the voters in the UK should have regard to their quality of life and how it would be degraded by inappropriate development.

It is a gross over simplification to suggest that local planning departments hold all the answers. At best they are the umpires in a multi player game. That makes it all the more important the umpire makes and applies good rules and respects the rule of law.

Much negativity towards development derives from the failure of the umpires to treat all the stakeholders in the process fairly or to follow the rules. The last thing we need is people who believe that their particular ends, presumably property developments, justify any means.

Isn’t that what happened with the Draft Local Plan for Guildford? Should we accept development at any cost, even the cost of ignoring Codes of Conduct or the honesty of the people trusted to run the process?

Would not bad law capriciously applied ultimately lead to urban environments like Cairo, or Lagos?

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Responses to Letter: Is Endless Urban Development Really Inevitable?

  1. Andrew Carey Reply

    July 5, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Abolition of all agricultural subsidies has to be considered. They currently gives land a holding value that is undeserved and removal would mean much more land would become available for development which, in turn, should mean much more flexibility for planning authorities to impose requirements that benefit existing neighbourhoods.

    Turning over three quarters to mixed woodland or other amenity spaces is one example. Or only developing land used previously and intensely for agriculture.

    A few spectacular stately homes wouldn’t go amiss either – inheritance taxes will wipe out the wealth of the owners in a few generations and 23rd century couples can have their wedding parties there.

    At the moment because land becomes available rarely and in such small packets, it seems we have to cram as much into the small space as possible. The results are very unappealing.

  2. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 5, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    On the question of land availability for development, here lies some of the answers outlined in the article by George Monbiot of The Guardian.

    Out of three million houses needed, only one million could be built on brownfield sites, so the remainder has to be on largely agricultural land currently enjoying subsidies. The government needs to legislate such that excessive profit from land sales destined for change of use is taxed appropriately (on a rising scale) so that all such transfers benefit all.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    July 6, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Agricultural subsidies from the EU may not be ideal. But they do little to prevent development and do not compete with the hard cash offered by developers:

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