An open letter to David Cameron

David Cameron

David Cameron - Credit: Archant

Katie Jarvis appeals to the Prime Minister for coherent planning policies that will stop planners “selling our heritage down the line”

Katie Jarvis

Katie Jarvis - Credit: Archant

Dear Mr Cameron,

While you are worrying about Russia, the Ukraine, Syria and the EU – all of which are important, I know – there’s a problem closer to home that is urgently demanding your attention. It may have escaped your notice that England’s green and pleasant land is under threat as never before. There seems to be a pound-sign hanging over every green field in the Cotswolds – probably in the rest of the UK, too; and round all these green fields, there are developers circling in their smart black Jags and BMWs, cheque books protruding from the pockets of their well-cut suits.

And do you know who is trying to save these fields? On the whole, Mr Cameron, it’s the ordinary people – your people – of this country; people with little money and few resources compared to the companies they’re pitted against. People who desperately care about the countryside that defines this beloved nation of ours. Have you noticed the number of posters going up in fields? The number of ‘Save Our…’ Facebook groups? The number of protest meetings?

You can call these people NIMBYs, if you like (though there’s nothing wrong with NIMBYs; they’re often responsible for incrementally protecting this planet). But whichever particular parcel of countryside they’re trying to save, they have plenty of goals in common: goals that would unite them, if they had the resources.

I might, instead, call them guardians of our heritage. They’re trying to save the countryside for their children and their grandchildren; for the flora and fauna that live there. (And if you’re going to tell me, as others do, that those green fields are already denuded of wildlife, then that’s an additional problem that needs solving, not an excuse.)

When speculative developers Gladman set out to build in the Slad Valley – a plan that was quashed thanks to a general outcry (at least for the moment), thank goodness – they held a public consultation (Ha! More about those shortly) at which they invited questions. I asked one of their directors for his favourite passage from Cider With Rosie. I was met with a baffled silence. Ignorance and lack of conscience in one fell swoop.

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Just the other day, I went to another ‘consultation’, this time by Newland Homes that wishes to build in the Newmarket Valley, near where I live in Nailsworth. People flocked to the meeting to express their concerns, not only about the countryside but about the bottleneck access road that already causes problems. “How many parking spaces do your plans allow for?” I asked the design director responsible for this would-be application for 17 homes. “I don’t know,” he replied. Umm… Right.

Do these consultations mean that developers note public unhappiness and withdraw? Do they thump. Do they mean that, actually, they get a chance to note down major objections and slightly alter their plans accordingly? Probably. But we’re damned if we attend these meetings and damned if we don’t.

Now, you might tell me that one of the reasons for this free-for-all, particularly in Stroud, lies with the district council. I might respond that your planning policy is to blame, Mr Cameron, and that councils – already squeezed financially – are becoming afraid to oppose plans because of the cost to the public purse. But actually, I’m not interested in process – that’s your responsibility. I’m interested in the result. And the result is a muddled, chaotic planning system that seems anti any democratic principles and pro developers wanting to make a killing. It’s inevitable: if you use a set of weighing scales to balance grass against concrete, they will instantly fall on the side of the developers. But that’s not the set of weights most of us would like to see used.

Yes, we need homes – we all know that. (At least, we’re told that; I’m still slightly confused by where exactly these numbers are coming from.) But that shouldn’t be a mantra that drowns out every other voice in the country. We want a coherence to planning policy rather than the current shambles, which seems to be selling our heritage down the line, while allowing developers to make easy killings.

Let me put it like this. When we look back and blame the past for terrible injustices, I often think we should also stop and examine what the future will think of us. What coming generations will blame us for, in 100 years from now. Plenty of choice, I should think. But the concreting over of England’s beautiful spaces will, I have no doubt, be somewhere high on that list.

Many of the ordinary people of England, if they were there to see this trial of the 21st century, would be able to say, “At least I tried”.

Is that something you will also be able to say, I wonder, Mr Cameron.

I love the Cotswolds; I love this country. I’m sure you do, too. In which case, please, please stop this dreadful injustice to our beautiful countryside before it is too late.

Yours sincerely,

Katie Jarvis