Well, I have to declare an interest: I’m not a ‘normal person’ either! I’m an architect with a good working knowledge of the planning system and sustainable design, so my reference to planners in the last post was a bit cheeky; they have a difficult job to do, balancing the economic imperative for housing growth against the protection of our countryside on the one hand and the principles of ‘Sustainable Development’ on the other. Sustainable Development is the over-arching principle that shaped planning policy throughout the life of the last Government, initially in the form of ‘Towards an Urban Renaissance’, architect Lord (Richard) Rogers report on sustainable development to the new Labour administration in 1997 and then through Planning Policy Statement 1.
Under PPS 1, current planning policy is set firmly in favour of condensed, large-scale development, even in rural areas. The theory is that in all local services – schools, shops, healthcare, pubs post-offices – have a ‘threshold population’, a minimum number of people to make them viable. Unless the population can live within walking distance of these services, they will probably resort to using their cars to reach them. And the private car – responsible for about one sixth of total UK carbon emissions – is regarded as a BAD THING by sustainability experts.
The big problem therefore, for dispersed rural development – i.e., villages – is that they are almost inevitably car-dependant. A few village shops survive and a few more village schools, but in general country-dwellers use their cars to shop, visit the doctor, and get to work. Hard-core ‘green’ developers share PPS1’s antipathy towards the car, and having been partially indoctrinated in the ways of sustainable design myself I can see the logic of the argument. But on more than one occasion I have had to caution potential clients considering projects in Norfolk that ‘real’ people know that the car is pretty fundamental to rural life. If you don’t accept that, it’s hard to see how the Community Right to Build makes sense.