HOUSING v COUNTRYSIDE

HOUSING 61a

Grab for the Green 61b

Ever since cave people moved out from their hillside shelters and out into the forest, where they cleared trees to make spaces for farming and mud and wicker dwellings gave shelter, there has been an uneasy tension between us upright destructive mammals and the natural spaces around us. From families to groups of families our 61lsettlements grew, consuming land for shelters but also saving greater spaces to feed the ever growing settlements. The tension between the imperative need for nature’s spaces and the need for housing builds like a reservoir of pressure ever increasing and only held back by the flimsiest of politicians preserving the natural world and rural vote. You see, this is the key, powerful rich political party donators and those with immense influence live in the countryside and will do everything to preserve their rich rural reserve. No ‘affordable’ housing and semi privatised ‘council’ estates will soil their soil, the powerful play with the political decision makers, and year on year the green belt prices out the poor and remains the family retreats of the Range Rover class, and that of the land owning, land cultivating farmers, long since awarded the guardians of our green and pleasant lands.

Housing estates looked down on by the rich and their rolling rural hills has been separated by green belts, usually bordered by herd grafting farmers for a thousand years or more, protected by many an ancient statute and planning by-law. This was more to preserve the playground of the rich and hem in the ‘haven nots’ to their concrete and brick zones, filled with fumes of diesel or petrol, where night skies are obscured by lamppost light pollution, where many only touch natures 61jpotential in council cultivated parks. These parks always seem to have play areas for children, tires hung by chains, the banging of see-saws crashing to the ground, slides shining from being polished for many a seat sliding, and the climbing frame over rubber mat, where parents look on anxiously hoping that if they fall the matting will help them bounce and not break. For me, the immaculate rows of bedding plants tended and manicured into complete ordered beauty of colours that would impress all who gaze upon these borders. Yet, in the back of my mind, as wonderful as these explosions of colour are, they are the furthest things from a field of wild meadow flowers in the spring breeze wafting their thin stems, bowing and swaying with tall grasses and skittering butterflies. These perfect borders and green inner city spaces have little connection with the green belt that stops the towns from covering all land. In this land limited island of ours, another justification to support the wealthy in their defence of N.I.M.B.Y.ism (not in my back yard).

So for the government to be going against their rural supporters and local councils, with their traditional planning powers, is quite amazing. To use the green belt for building must be shocking the stinking rich to their very foundations. They say there is an unprecedented need to build 250,000 affordable homes and have gone toe to toe with their traditional core supporters, who feel using the green belt, may actually allow their hallowed hills and woodland to be used by common people; so the fight is on61f. Rural councils, farmers and lobbying landowners on the one side; the Government, city and town councils on the other, clambering for more space. For the Government it is also a way of injecting growth into the building industry which has flattened since 2008, generating jobs and getting the housing market to wake up after 4 years of being in a coma. No matter what one may think of them the Government are not as foolish as they seem to be taking on the rampant, bombastic rural renegades, oh no. the Government are banking on taking the rural votes they lose with new home buyer voters, and financial party support from the land owning gentry being surpassed by construction industry and related supply chain donators, ensuring Tory coffers don’t get depleted. It’s a trade off the Tory’s are happy to make to win back the towns and cities that would be able to breath and spread their communities into rural greenery, or should that be oil seed rape brilliant yellow.

So, I get the risk the government is taking, gambling the relaxation of rules will facilitate the construction industry, traditionally a huge employer of people, will spring into life, as will their supply chains and all 61rthey employ too. This then having the push into the housing market, if the banks will lend, allowing 250,000 affordable homes to each have their own families. The price is losing their heart land support and quite a lot of green belt. But to get the economy shocked into growing again I suspect they believe it is worth this loss. I really can see the benefits of this strategy but are we missing an obvious solution that does not impact on our long protected British highlands, lowlands, hills and river valleys, once conical navigated arteries of these Isles of Britain that is unique in itself. This land is already scarred and gnarled when man was let loose and unrestricted; the open casts of coal claw marks, deep cuts of flint mines in Wales, the hectares upon hectares of aptly named brown field sites where once heavy industry thrived. Now only plates of concrete remain as factory footprints, gone since the 1970’s – truly brown and polluted earth that was once as meadow fresh as any of nature’s creations before man cleared, built and polluted, killing the very ability of soil to bring forth life.

There is a solution if the political will would follow and support it.

It is well documented that 10’s of thousands of people in the UK, including families and children, live in absolute squalor or are homeless; yes in 2012 as we approach 61uChristmas, we live in a society that still tolerates people, citizens of this democratic monarchy we stand so proud of, sleeping in doorways, sheltering in alleys from the snow and sleet, even though there is a solution. In every city and large town there are these rows of boarded up terraces, an estimated 1 million properties lay empty and decaying into disrepair. Yet the homeless and those living in filth, waiting for ever on housing lists, go uncared for by this United Kingdom. I am sure it doesn’t feel like a Kingdom when you curl up on flattened cardboard boxes trying to keep warm as pavements glisten and twinkle with ice forming, temperatures plummeting night after night. But yet, councils do not act – why?

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It was highlighted by presenter, George Clarke (Channel 4 August 2012), the ease of ability to convert these empty housing units into high quality accommodation for the homeless, families, young people turned out of care; women with their children needing places of safety or new starts after escaping their nightmares. The cost to convert these empty boarded properties was a 20th of the price to build new, and it was proposed that the incentives the government gives to home builders should instead be utilised only to renovate to a high standard these Victorian and pre-World War II housing stocks and stock of the late 1940’s and 50’s.

But instead, they choose to destroy and demolish, clear away all. I saw with my own eyes row upon row, street after street of Victorian terraces and their shops demolished, levelled by wrecking ball, bulldozer and JCB, putting out more destructive power to these once proud communities, than ever did the German bombing raids command. About 2 miles square of61w brick and slate topped Victorian laid waste, then transported away to somewhere I am not aware of, picked clean by salvage yard owners – the demolition equivalent of vultures. The ground scraped clean till there just isn’t a trace of the 200 years, or more, of history. Wiped clean as if we were ashamed of what was once there. But why go to all this effort, why clean the city scape of these long since abandoned terraces? The irony is so laughable I shake my head in disbelief at the council’s stupidity. Why remove all that was once there, including generations of families, neighbours and communities, so that the land can be sold to the construction industry to build houses, of which only 5 or 10% will be “affordable housing”, whatever that means. Thousands of properties destroyed, obliterated from the city scape in order to build homes the former residents could never hope to afford. And herein lies the stupidity of it all – millions of pounds to clear away centuries, lives, generations gone, just to then rebuild properties that will never last as long or mean as much in the cities’ social history.

61nThis seems to be the preferred option but if they would only rethink this model of business, if the Government would give incentives to rejuvenate rather than new build, our society would be so much better, the green belt would also be untouched. That gentle balance between town and country would be maintained, and calm between factions trying to control our ‘greenery’ would be free to find new campaigns to voice to the country. So why is this solution not actioned? It would be so easy for Parliament, for Government, to set in motion, to utilise the same construction industry skills, supply chains and associated job creation for young and old alike, giving the economy the same boost, just focussed differently and without the need for demolition, for destruction.

The simple answer is money. The desire to be richer, the need to make more millions. Greed taking a lead and crushi61qng common sense into dust. Every town has 100’s if not thousands of boarded up properties, the majority owned by the council or organisations set up by the councils in the 80s and 90s to manage their housing stock. 99% of them boarded and becoming more dilapidated as each month passes. The councils waiting for the recession to recede, land prices rise and building industry re finances again as markets improve; then these empty potential homes will be sold for millions, cleared and multiple new dwellings of Barratt, Whimpey, etc. will spring up. Yet, the homeless will be homeless, and the next generation will be unable to afford these new housing stocks.

I guess another tale of the profit is far more important to the fat cats than the people in desperate need. It shows where the politi1cal will is really focussed, as if they wanted there would be hardly any homeless or those waiting for housing for whatever reason.

61i

These are some addition sites you may want to look at regarding this blog, futher information if you will:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/dec/01/tory-rural-raid-andrew-motion

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-restoration-man

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/george-clarkes-amazing-spaces/4od 61g

Yours

Jonathan Wade

Smiling Cat Ventures and Innovations Group

 

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