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Letter: Would You Be Prepared to Lose One Finger on the Basis That You Have Nine Others?

Published on: 24 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 24 Jul, 2022

From: David Roberts

In response to: The Green Belt Gives Us the Opportunity to Grow

Howard Smith’s points numbered 1, 3 and 4 are good examples of the “straw man” fallacy, arguing against opinions that nobody has actually expressed.

Everyone agrees, for instance, that as we live in smaller households we require more housing units, but to say that this necessarily requires the destruction of green fields simply doesn’t follow.

Everyone agrees too that development in the green belt should be allowed in exceptional circumstances. Some land in the green belt is previously developed, land of no great value except as sites for new housing, eg derelict barns.   Not even the most extreme “Green” would say this should be preserved as it is, so the assertion that there are people who think there should be no development in the green belt is a canard invented to brand all conservationists as nimbies.

And then there is the idea that if you only destroy, say, two per cent of the green belt it doesn’t matter because two per cent isn’t very much.

The fallacy here is that there is a known percentage below which the damage is acceptable.  But the problem with this is that there is no consensus or methodology around what percentage that should be (2, 20, 50?) or even that this is the right basic approach.

Should we, for instance, sell 2, or 20, or 50 per cent of the Crown Jewels on the basis that no-one would miss them?  Would you be prepared to lose a finger on the basis that you still have nine others?

Mr Smith’s assertion smacks of hard-Left quota-setting in the style of Stalinist central planning.  Superficially, sacrificing two per cent might sound reasonable enough but could probably be agreed only by top-down diktat.

His second point confuses house prices with land values. Land with actual or potential planning permission is traded among big developers as a disembodied financial instrument, regardless of whether anything gets built. If house prices rise, so much the merrier for the developers, but their profits are mainly speculative, as any socialist should understand.

Concreting over the whole of Surrey would have almost no effect on the cost of a home. Labour seem to have fallen for the Tory fairy-tale that you can build your way to lower house prices without addressing market dysfunction.

On point number 5, over-development can be easily defined as building stuff no-one needs. As John Perkins suggests, key workers don’t need the million-pound executive homes currently being thrown up across Guildford’s countryside.

Point 6 is deeply unpleasant. My own parents, for example, are sadly no longer alive to live with, but I am lucky to be able to accommodate a 32-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. Why should this, or other people’s family circumstances, mean our views don’t count? Is Labour’s answer to right-wing culture wars to bring back the class war?

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