Friday, 25 July 2014

Using Less, Living Better

With economic development seemingly drifting back into a 1960’s model of unrestrained expansion, ignoring the environmental consequences, it is refreshing to realise that there is a large movement now towards a far more strategic approach to development. 

In my last blog I criticised an approach to road building that is based on the assumption that continued expansion will cure our problems.  This is a symptom of a bygone approach – prosperity can only be provided by continual physical expansion.  We live in an overcrowded county, in a highly populated country, in a world that is living far beyond its ecological limits.  Damage to wildlife is a symptom. 

The old-school approach is to carry on regardless and hope we can wrestle just a bit more GDP growth out of a reluctant natural world.  To read much in the press one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the only development model on offer.  However, as David Attenborough said, continued expansion in a finite world is only believed possible by madmen – and economists!

This old fashioned approach, however, is not the only game in town.  Solutions are being found by people with a much more strategic view about the future and this is exemplified by West Sussex’s “Environment and Climate Change Board” – an independent board established by the County Council a few years ago. 

The approach taken by the Board is summed up in the mission statement “Using Less, Living Better” – a simple but fundamental statement and, when you think about it, if we meet this aim then the world does have a future!  The Board is chaired by Russell Strutt who has now written an excellent blog investigating some of these concepts.  I would very much encourage people to read this, and maybe look at some of the sources he quotes.

Our battle against the environment looks like something we are in danger of winning!  Read Russell’s article for an alternative view.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Roads to nowhere

They say that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – and so it goes with road building. 

Blowing a thick layer of dust off plans that have already failed several times, an A27 Action group has now formed to promote major road expansion across Sussex.  This seems supported by a s so-called evidence gathering exercise is now being rushed through by Department for Transport.  This will effectively tell us where the traffic jams are (I thought we already knew that!); this skewed exercise – only investigating traffic and only asking about road constraints - is designed to come up with the answer of more roads.

We’ve been here before – many times.

That proposed roads will damage the environment is unarguable.  Likely outcomes include devastation of ancient woodland, construction of dual carriageways through the National Park and the ignoring of climate change implications.  At a time when we should be enhancing our natural environment, rebuilding our natural prosperity and achieving major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, these proposals simply take us in the wrong direction.

Other lessons forgotten from history include the point that roads like this do not even achieve the narrow objectives set by their proposers.  The “predict and provide” approach of yesteryear has re-emerged on the na├»ve basis that if you predict where the traffic jams are going to be, expand the roads at those points then all the problems will magically disappear. 

The opposite tends to be the case. New roads generate new traffic.  Even in the unlikely event that the current traffic hot-spots might be eased, the effect of this will be to draw more traffic into the area generally.  More traffic through the lanes and villages of the National Park, more traffic and congestion in the cities, towns and villages along the A27 corridor.  Another turn of the treadmill with the following demands for yet more road building.

The reason for this is obvious.  If any one of us thinks that traffic jams are a little less likely then we will simply use our cars a little more often.  This phenomenon of generated traffic is well-known, although seems to be forgotten in current plans.

The pity here is that there are some in the economic sector that seem unable to think at a strategic level.  We live in a small, heavily populated county.  Transport will always be constrained.  Building an economy on the principle of moving more goods and people over longer distances will always be a vulnerable economy.  Instead we should be looking to the already good work being done to massively improve energy and resource efficiency, far greater use of IT and digital technology and far better integration of transport with planning. 

Approaches like this, and many others, should aim to deliver environmental prosperity and economic growth in ways that reduce the need to travel.  Setting us off in the wrong direction yet again is just a distraction from the sort of progress we should be looking for.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Lies, damn lies and (housing) statistics.

I had the privilege of attending a packed meeting last Friday, organised by LAMBS, in opposition to the new town that a developer is proposing in the countryside outside Henfield.  Around 500 people crammed into a large hall in Burgess Hill to express their concerns.

The panel of speakers included Arundel and Downs MP, Nick Herbert; Mid Sussex MP, Nicholas Soames; Mid Sussex District Councillor, Norman Webster; Hosham District Councillor, Brian O’Connell; Founder of LAMBS, Anthony Watts WilliamsDr Roger Smith, Sussex CPRE, Kenneth MacIntosh from Hands Off Henfield and I was there too.

It was an excellent meeting, giving a very clear message to these predatory developers and I recommend that you read Jane Simmons piece about the meeting on the LAMBS website.

There was, however, one thing we did not have time to delve into.  We did not really question the propaganda that is constantly promoted by developers.

We all know the story.  We need houses, the environment is a block on development, and all these protesters are just being NIMBYs by preventing people getting homes!  The constant line we are fed is that there is a lack of capacity – not enough homes, we must build more and governments are judged on how many houses they build.

But simple answers to complex problems are always wrong.

Let’s have a look at a few statistics.

If this lack of capacity was true then we would expect to be seeing increasing numbers of people being crammed into ever smaller houses.  The truth, however, is the opposite.

About 10 years ago there was an average of 2.4 people per house.  Today there is an average of 2.3.  The drive for more house building is largely a result of fewer people living in each house.  Broadly, what seems to be happening is we are spreading the same number of people into a larger number of houses. 

To take this to a ridiculous extreme you can project this continuous decline of the number of people per house into the future.  If you do this you get to a point in 230 years time where there is nobody living in any houses no matter how many you build!

A mindset based on predict and provide has obvious shortcomings.

We seem to accept, unquestioningly, that we need more houses so that young families, in particular, will have somewhere to live in the future.  Yet building more houses alone does not solve the problem.  We just end up with fewer people per house and those young families can still not find a home. 

There are far more complex issues at work here requiring social, economic and political answers – why are people needing homes not able to get them whilst others are able to spread into more houses?  Gritty problems way outside the remit of a Wildlife Trust, but problems our politicians should be addressing.  We are being deflected in a “homes versus the environment” argument as an alternative to finding more complex solutions.  This deflection benefits no one except the development industry.

We have become obsessed with housing numbers because of the “frame” of the argument, set by developers to their own advantage.  If we spend all our time arguing about who can build most houses and where we are going to put them, then developers do very nicely out of it!

In practice, as ever, the environment is used as a scape-goat.  Instead of addressing socio-economic problems driving a lack of homes we vaguely hope that destroying a bit more environment in order to build a new town will somehow be the solution.  It won’t be but in the mean time the developer will have moved on to his next lucrative project.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A New Town near Henfield - public meeting

Henfield, Woodmancote, Shermanbury, Partridge Green, Twineham, Wineham, Sayers Common, Albourne, Hickstead, Hurstpierpoint and more – all at risk from a developers plan for a town that could be larger than Burgess Hill.

The proposal undermines the local planning process, is opposed by locals, MPs, Councillors and many others, and is set to devastate 1,200 acres of beautiful rural Sussex along with its treasured wildlife. It seems to have nothing in its favour other than the clamour to produce more houses whatever the environmental cost.  Nevertheless “Mayfield Market Towns”, the developer, is set to press ahead with the formal planning application process.

Unsurprisingly there is strong local opposition to the plan.  Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl (LAMBS) are therefore holding a public meeting to fight the proposal.  This is on Friday 20th June at 7.30 and will be held at St Paul’s Catholic College, Jane Murray Way, Burgess Hill, RH15 8GA.  Key speakers will be MPs Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert, and Anthony Watts from LAMBS.

The Sussex countryside is under threat and guardians of our countryside, like LAMBS, deserve our support.

Friday, 13 June 2014


Brighton & Lewes downs is the first new UNESCO World Biosphere site in UK in 40 years

Today saw the first completely new Biosphere site in the UK established for almost forty years and the first ever in south-east England. The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere was awarded this designation by UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) programme, which met in Sweden on Wednesday 11th June.  It joins a global network of more than 600 “world-class environments” in over 100 countries, and is one of only a handful worldwide to include a city. 

Achieving the status of a new World Biosphere site follows six years’ work by the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership to develop its bid. The partnership of some forty organisations, with Brighton & Hove City Council as a lead partner, includes other local authorities, public bodies, voluntary organisations including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, educational and community organisations and private sector business.

Martin Price, Chair of the UK National Committee for UNESCO’s Man & the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, reports from the UNESCO meeting in Sweden: “I am very glad to say that the decision was taken today to approve the Brighton & Lewes Downs as a new Biosphere for the UK, so it is now a globally-recognised site of excellence where many individuals and organisations work in partnership to foster all aspects of sustainable development across the region.”

Chair of the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, Chris Todd says: “This is world recognition for the fantastic environment we have here and for all the hard work that local people put into looking after it.  Now we have this accolade, we aim to build on the partnership to do even greater things. This is not about telling people what to do but creating a vision for the future.  More and more people are living in cities and we need to find ways of making them more pleasant places to live. We need to make sure that we build nature into the equation while raising awareness of how the natural environment contributes to our wealth and well-being.”

Jeremy Burgess, Eastern Downs Area Manager for the South Downs National Park and Vice Chair of the Biosphere partnership said: “Getting Biosphere status for this part of the South Downs and surrounding area is a great achievement. It means that an area already protected nationally for its special landscapes has been recognised internationally for the importance of its wildlife and the role it can play in improving quality of life and boosting a greener economy for the millions of people who live around it. The National Park isn’t an island and we hope that Biosphere status will help us reach out and encourage more visits, research and investment across the area.”

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area covers all of the land and near-shore coastal waters between the two rivers of the Adur in the west and the Ouse in the east. The northern boundary of the South Downs National Park marks its northern limits, while it also includes the city of Brighton & Hove and neighbouring towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Shoreham, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach. Extending two nautical miles out to sea, it also includes part of one of the first ‘Marine Conservation Zones’ designated by the Government last year.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Mayfields vision of a garden city in Sussex misses the mark

Below I reprint an article from Jane Simmons, of LAMBS, which looks at a vision for a garden city which seems to be the sort of thing planned by the developers for the east of Henfield.

Mayfield Market Towns' ‘vision’ for a Garden City in Sussex has failed to make today’s shortlist for the much publicised Wolfson Prize.

The prize was created by the Conservative Peer, Lord Simon Wolfson, as an incentive to find the best way to deliver 'a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable and popular’. 

Mayfield Director, Peter Freeman entered the competition in March, with an 83 page document championing a Garden City of 10,000 homes on 1,000 acres of land. His model is notably short of the Government’s published ideal "which is locally-led, includes at least 15,000 homes and has the backing of existing residents". 

His submission, titled ‘A Shared Vision’ does not mention Mayfield Market Towns by name, but refers to a location about 50 miles from London where, Mr Freeman says, he is “confident” of success:

“We are at the early stages of promoting a Garden City in a location about 50 miles from London. In due course, we are confident that we will succeed because of the underlying need arguments and the advantages of a comprehensive, planned Garden City over many add-on schemes.
“However, in the short term, Councillors are unwilling to engage, given their interpretation of the Localism Act as releasing them from an obligation to meet need. It would be more fruitful for all stakeholders, local residents, future residents, businesses and the Council if we could be building a shared vision at an early stage. We hope that the Wolfson Prize will help all stakeholders see the merits of Garden Cities as a solution to the Housing Crisis.”
And, in contrast to the much feted Localism Act, Mr Freeman goes on to imply that Garden Cities should be Nationally led:
“We see this as a National challenge, requiring some form of Government action,” he says “– just as the investments following the post-war New Towns programme was part of a national effort.”
Amongst the many pages of financial and economic predictions, Mr Freeman also touches on the subject of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) and monetary compensation for local residents. The solution, he says, is to offer;
“A simple, modest compensation to ordinary residents who feel their lives have been adversely affected… even though the new amenities and extra demand from new residents may increase the value of their homes.”
And on the subject of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO), he states that;
“The existing owner should receive as a minimum the full value (excluding any hope value) prior to the permitted change of use of any land acquired by CPO or threat of CPO.”
Despite the length of Mr Freeman’s submission, the vast swathes of countryside which would be affected by this development are mentioned only briefly, in a paragraph just twelve lines long:
“The countryside,” says Mr Freeman, “makes a vital contribution to Britain’s heritage, leisure, health, food production, tourism, ecology and overall sense of well-being”.
Mr Freeman’s current position as Director of Mayfield Market Towns is omitted from the report.
The Wolfson competition judges shortlisted five entries – the overall winner will receive £250,000. Mr Freeman’s submission failed to reach the shortlist but won a £1,000 commendation for his ‘wide range of ideas on securing popularity’.
Peter Freeman’s full report can be seen here.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Mayfield Market Town – one of many threats to the Sussex countryside.

I was delighted by the number of concerned responses to my last blog on Mayfield Market Town, where I reproduced an excellent article by Jane Simmons focusing on barn owls.  Clearly many people are concerned not only about this threat, but about unsustainable development pressure throughout Sussex

As well as proposals for the east of Henfield, there are other threats north of Horsham, north of Burgess Hill, in the Low Weald around Bexhill and many in more places besides.  On top of this is the worry about another runway at Gatwick (with a large amount of likely associated development), threats of developing the A27 through the National Park and of course the ongoing threat of oil fracking.

This is a time of major pressure to develop infrastructure in Sussex and elsewhere in the South East. We are now seeing developers jumping into the vacuum left by recent changes to planning policy, taking advantage of the absence of strategic plans and the time needed to update local plans, and promoting their own ideas and interests.

What struck me from the comments, however, was the desire for people to get engaged in issues like this, and try to do something about what they see as threats to the Sussex countryside.  Indeed there were a few complaints that we are not doing enough to help with this.

We do what we can with our very limited capacity within the Trust, trying to focus on the strategic level of planning to influence decisions and site allocations before the planning application stage. Even so, we can barely scratch the surface by ourselves or even in joint ventures with other countryside organisations. But we can enable people who are concerned about the development of a site to engage in the planning process and make sure they have their own impact.

  1. Please visit our website for information and advice on how to get involved in planning decisions and make your concerns heard. Further advice can also be found through CPRE Sussex , the RSPB, and the Woodland Trust .

  1. It is right for people to be concerned as soon as the threat becomes apparent. Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl (LAMBS), are campaigning against this proposal and other groups have petitions that you can sign. You can also write directly to your MP expressing your views.

  1. Recording what you know about a local area, especially what species and habitats are present is also an incredibly valuable way to build a picture about biodiversity on both a local and landscape scale. We would always encourage you to submit your data and sightings to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre  and help inform the ecological baseline for the county.

  1. There is currently no formal planning application for Mayfield Market Town for people to respond to. So the chance for formal input from the Sussex Wildlife Trust is limited at the moment.  However we are working on our response to the current consultation on the proposed submission Horsham District Planning Framework. This strategic document sets out where and how development will happen in Horsham District over the next 20 years and will be the framework around which decisions about new towns, including Mayfield should be made. Local knowledge is a vital part of these plans, so why not make your own comments before the consultation ends on the 27th June.

  1. Or how about feeding directly back to the developers of the proposed Mayfield Market Town themselves as they have set out their proposition and are inviting feedback. Simply let them know how you feel.