Mr. Town meets Mr. Country

The Land Is Ours office at
Sun Jul 1 22:50:21 BST 2001

Mr. Town meets Mr. Country
Richard Rogers & John Jackson
 From BSE to foot & mouth, from hunting to the Countryside Alliance, from 
Maff to Defra - out of crisis the countryside has moved to the top of the 
political agenda. But where is the Urban Alliance? Are the cities losing 
their way? And how can the fractured relationship of the last decade be 
healed in the next? (v. long)
The rural-urban divide defines a vital part of society everywhere. Here, 
two representatives of the British experience meet for the first time and 
try to establish their common ground. They share a despair at government 
policy and the lack of an overall approach, which has taken an especially 
damaging form in England in the course of the twentieth century. They both 
feel that the government is all too unlikely to alter this.
Richard Rogers, a renowned international architect and Labour peer, headed 
the Labour government’s Urban Task Force. John Jackson is a leading 
businessman who chairs the Countryside Alliance. Roger Scruton and Ken 
Worpole are the editors of the City and Country topic of openDemocracy
Whether in the form of poetry, myth, thinking, policy or planning law  the 
editors of openDemocracy seek a unified, environmentally realistic and 
humane approach to the urban-rural divide, which so profoundly touches the 
nature of the human species around the world. You are welcome to contribute 
your experience and perspectives and add your questions to the discussion.
openDemocracy  The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act of the post-war 
Labour government separated cities and countryside from the point of view 
of planning. Now this Labour government has published separate white papers 
on urban and rural policy, and been re-elected. What are your views of this 
legacy and the prospect it holds out?
Richard Rogers  Overall, we are facing one crisis. We’re seeing the 
countryside eroded and the cities fragmenting. These two processes are 
sides of a single process: as the cities fragment, people move out, erode 
the countryside, and hollow out urban areas even more. If we don’t improve 
the quality of our cities where the vast majority of people live, then we 
will all end up having to live in a suburban sprawl.
People move out primarily from the towns and cities that work least well. 
Fragmentation follows the need to escape. East Manchester had nearly 
100,000 people living there just after the war. It now has only 15-20,000 
people. Four out of every five houses are boarded up or destroyed. There is 
no civic society left. Anyone still there who can move out, will do so.
Having two separate white papers instead of one was forced on John Prescott 
at the Department of the Environment. I know that originally he wanted to 
have a single one for both countryside and city. That is what I argued for. 
But the situation, the legacy if you will, still encourages the attitude 
that people must ‘defend’ one or the other: John Jackson  the countryside; 
myself  cities. This polarisation does not address the situation.
At the same time, internationally, there is a tremendous amount of 
agreement about the overall principles of sustainable development. Such as 
the need to use brownfield land as a primary form of any part of 
development, the need to build mixed-use into the city, making it more 
compact, better connected, more sustainable in terms of ecology, well 
managed and governed.
But the forces which drive people from the cities have not abated. These 
are not just poverty or a poor physical environment, but also the way that 
we subsidise roads and cars. We don’t cost in the pollution, or the 3,600 
killed and over 300,000 injured every year on the roads in the UK, and what 
they cost the health services. We encourage people to look after 
themselves, rather than care for civil society and have civic pride.
John Jackson  Broadly, I agree. When I looked at the two white papers, the 
first thing I noticed was that the one on towns says the government’s aim 
is to deliver an “Urban Renaissance”, while the one on the countryside says 
its aim is “A Fair Deal for Rural England”. (Laughter) Why on earth can’t 
we have a Rural Renaissance? More seriously, both documents talk about the 
necessity for power to be devolved back to those communities. What they 
don’t talk about is how the central power can organise itself to have any 
meaningful relationship with communities.
My target is central government. I personally believe that we’re trying to 
run a 21st century Britain with a system which just isn’t working  starting 
with the two party set-up, which will survive last week’s election, 
whatever people say, until there is proportional representation. We can 
have good quality policy frameworks until the moon turns blue  nothing 
lasting will actually happen until we can get a sufficient degree of power 
into local communities, whether they’re in the cities or the countryside. 
People must be able to participate in the creation of policy as well its 
What distinguishes the countryside from towns and cities is that the 
countryside is predominantly based on communities with strong feelings 
about their identities. They have their characteristics which are driven 
largely by local circumstances: usually the way in which land is used 
(farming, forestry etc), form of agriculture which the geography or 
topography has imposed. Getting a sense of community, where people relate 
to a particular bit of urban geography without a shared local economy or 
other local interest, is very difficult.
I’ve lived as much in cities as I have in the countryside. If they are 
rooted in ethnic or religious affiliations, communities in cities can 
flourish. Otherwise, it is a lot easier to lie dead and unnoticed for three 
months in your flat in the city, than it ever would be in any rural 
community. As wealth increases, I think you’re going to find the continual 
pressure of people moving that Richard Rogers describes. Not necessarily 
consciously moving towards a community, but certainly moving away from a 
lack of one. The process is driven by wealth as well as poverty.
Social and physical exclusion
RR  I agree, we are saying similar things. In terms of the anatomy of the 
city, the city is a series of villages and towns put together. The 
neighbourhood community is the beginning, the doorstep if you like. You 
need to have a sense that the town is a place where people come to meet 
each other  friends or strangers. This is a principle for any form of urban 
settlement. The variations are in scale and density, transportation systems 
and pollution.
In cities or villages that work well, neighbourhoods are strong. The reason 
that people want to live in, say, London’s Notting Hill Gate is that you’ve 
got a genuinely mixed community, good parks, some good markets, housing for 
the less well off, housing for the rich. I’m a traditionalist in this sense 
of looking for the whole. The mix of forms lets people get together. If it 
does not, everything fragments.
The Labour government is extremely conscious of  and is doing a lot of work 
on  social exclusion. But I don’t think it’s made the jump linking the 
social and physical. This lies at the root of the problem. There is still a 
feeling that if we pump money into improving schools, then it will make a 
neighbourhood. And I keep on saying, “If you can’t walk to school you 
haven’t got a community.” Whereas in 1971, eighty per cent of British 
children between the ages of six and eleven would walk, or go with their 
parents walking to school, it’s now ten per cent. That’s the end of 
communities across society.
oD  Today, if you live in the countryside it can be illegal to let your 
children walk to school, because you are not permitted to allow a child to 
go unaccompanied down a country lane.
JJ  I too remain to be convinced that Labour understands social exclusion, 
especially in rural areas. Following the Countryside March in 1998, I tried 
to persuade the government to consider what had brought such huge numbers 
to London. Eventually, I found that my letter had been passed to the Social 
Exclusion Unit. Another six weeks passed, so I phoned them. They then wrote 
and said that it was very interesting, and I could expect to hear more from 
them  I heard absolutely nothing at all.
Labour’s election manifesto promises a Department for Rural Affairs. If 
this replaces not just the old Ministry for Agriculture, Farming and 
Fisheries but more important its mentality, then perhaps we will see a 
shift in the whole approach of government policy-making.
RR  I’m very jealous of the fact that there is a Countryside Alliance. I 
feel that there should be a similar alliance of city dwellers. All the 
jokes about people in green wellies
 actually it’s about people who are 
linked by something. I’m conscious that we don’t have that kind of 
expression of city identity and interests. I have no idea what the answer 
is. But I think it is a critical problem.
I was brought in to head the Urban Task Force with a fanfare, but having 
bought the glamour, where is the substance? On the other hand, rural 
affairs now command a far longer and more articulated expression of policy 
commitments in the Labour party’s election manifesto. You may have been 
outsiders but you have created an influential independent force. The advice 
of the Urban Task Force may have been far-sighted, but short-term and 
bureaucratic interests easily prevail unless there is a force outside, 
influencing government. I think you have been more effective. I sometimes 
feel as if the wind has been taken out of my sails.
JJ  I would have swapped with you in one respect. What I really enjoyed in 
the urban white paper was the annex of the recommendations from your Urban 
Task Force. This was a serious attempt to say to policy makers, “If you 
want a policy framework, these are the sorts of things you should bear in 
mind.” We badly need a similar framework for the countryside. All we got 
from Labour in their first term were people who wanted to be ‘fair’ to it. 
You inspired us to produce our own detailed framework for a rural strategy.
The spark that set the countryside ablaze
oD  We can’t consider the Countryside Alliance without considering the 
question of hunting that precipitated it.
RR  I abstained on the vote. My position is that there is no reason for it 
to be in Parliament.There is only time for about thirty pieces of 
legislation to go through a year. There are very many more critical 
problems we should be tackling than whether some people should or shouldn’t 
hunt foxes.
I understand very little about fox hunting. I have a certain dislike of the 
idea. Having said that, I am very conscious that we’re meddling in 
something that other people enjoy greatly, and which means a lot to them. 
It’s an issue which divides my family. Coming back from Barcelona recently 
we argued over bull fighting. For many in Spain, bull fighting is a great 
cultural tradition, even an art, which brings people together as a community.
JJ  I’ve never hunted in my life and I never will. For me, the question is 
whether people should be able to decide for themselves whether to hunt or 
not. It’s a question of liberty. There’s not the slightest doubt that the 
threat to hunting was the spark that set the countryside ablaze. But what 
we have to ask ourselves is: why was the countryside tinder dry?
There is a deep concern about the gradual disintegration of communities on 
which the countryside is based, and deep resentment, as country people 
perceive it, of having other people’s values imposed on them. I’ll never 
forget when the editor of a London magazine said to me over lunch, “We 
subsidise the countryside in our food bills, they must learn to accept our 
values.” This attitude is known and feared. Countryside people are, by and 
large, pretty peaceful. But apprehension and resentment is enhanced by 
remarks like that. The threat to hunting brought it to a head. Then, 
crucially, because it was an attempt to forbid something, the idea of 
resistance was simple in that it was straightforward to organise around.
This led to a massive release of energy across the countryside, energy 
which can now be put to constructive use. I fear it will not be, unless we 
have both an adequate policy framework and forms of central government to 
which different communities in the countryside can relate.
A force for good?
RR  Having expressed my jealousy of the unity and scale of the movement, I 
am also worried about the Countryside Alliance because it seems to do 
exactly what we started by saying we don’t want. It says that there are two 
separate coins. There’s ‘The Countryside,’ and there’s “The City”.
Communities  which is what I’m interested in  should be working together. 
There is a danger in using the very general dissatisfaction, which affects 
the city as much as the countryside, in a one-sided way  which would not be 
a power for good.
When the Urban Task Force  a group reflecting a wide spectrum of 
interests  was working on urban renaissance for the white paper, we 
included, for example, Tony Burton from the Campaign for the Preservation 
of Rural England. We all agreed there was no difference between urbanites 
like myself and those like him who work on the countryside. I’d like to see 
a guerrilla force from the city and countryside work together to improve 
our quality of physical and social life.
JJ  In a way, I’m glad that Richard is worried. It means the Alliance is 
noticed. But I don’t know anybody in the Alliance who wants the countryside 
viewed in isolation from the urban populations. What they deeply resent and 
suspect is that it is the urban population who are hostile to them.
The fuel protest
RR  What is the relationship between the Alliance, then, and last year’s 
fuel crisis and the petrol strikes? Is there a direct link?
JJ  Not as much as some commentators believe. It would be very unfortunate 
if the Alliance gives rise to the notion that the countryside has to 
organise itself to protect itself against the power of the city.
RR  Getting lots of people together who have a common cause is fine, but 
what is the cause? This is why I brought up the question of the fuel 
protest. In environmental terms we should all pay more for fuel, not less. 
Instead protesters are saying, ‘Why should I pay more than the guys across 
the channel?’
JJ  The Countryside Alliance cannot survive on the basis of protest. When 
we produced our own rural white paper, we could not get any government 
department to read it. We ran into the problem of being labelled the 
‘hunting lobby’. The more the resistance from central government became 
apparent, the more people became determined that they should be heard.
Now, the rural manifesto we published for the election should be hugely 
welcomed by urban dwellers: it says that the countryside has to be seen as 
something which belongs to the whole nation. People in it have to live, 
work and have the possibility to do well. But people in the towns and the 
cities are hugely welcome in the countryside and play a major role in 
helping the countryside to be economically viable.
RR  What would be its key principles?
JJ  The countryside should be managed in such a way that there is harmony 
between all the conflicting interests that make demands upon the 
countryside: a thriving and happy community of people, sustainable food and 
timber production, nature conservation, good landscaping, public amenities 
and recreation and sport. These principles embrace everybody.
A common fight in a new era
RR  It is not going to be quite so easy. Yes, we need to identify shared 
community, through empowerment and participation. But the new era is also 
one in which societies are no longer controlled by the nation. Corporations 
have the ability to run nations. I think they are the enemy in terms of 
democracy and the individual. How are we going to control them? This is the 
really fundamental question.
We’re now a global society, and many of the corporations of the world earn 
more than most nations, have tremendous power and though they may not have 
the national vote, they have the vote through their dollars. The problem 
we’re facing is how to achieve balance between government, people, and 
large scale business  between democratic, empowered communities and 
corporations in whose interests these values play a very small part.
JJ  I entirely agree that the economic and social problem of the power of 
the big corporations has been coming up for years. I think one has to be 
careful not to generalise  there are some companies who understand 
extremely well the importance of communities and really do something about 
it. Other corporations are entirely cynical.
I was very struck by Colin Crouch’s Fabian pamphlet on post-democracy, 
which I’ve just read. I’ve brought it along because I thought this issue 
would come up. He says that general elections are now a “tightly controlled 
spectacle managed by rival teams of professionals, experts in the 
techniques of persuasion and considering a small range of issues collected 
by those teams. The mass of citizens play a passive, quiescent, even 
apathetic part 
 the electoral game 
 is really fixed in private by 
interaction between elected government and elites which overwhelmingly 
represent business interest.”
There is a huge amount of truth in this. It explains part of the enduring 
anger behind the Alliance. We yelled out in protest when the banks 
proceeded to close down their rural branches without local consultation, an 
action which had a profound social impact and caused huge resentment. In my 
area, people were saying ‘we’ ought to be able to stop the banks from doing 
oD  It’s not just banks, it’s agribusiness. One of the issues that produces 
cynicism about the Countryside Alliance in city-dwellers is the prairie 
farms and immense fields where country people have pulled out the 
hedgerows, drenched the land in chemicals, industrialised the landscape and 
been massively subsidised. If the Countryside Alliance were to oppose 
corporate food production it might get a lot more allies in towns.
JJ  You’re going down the George Monbiot line. What you say is true, and 
the Countryside Alliance has already made itself quite unpopular with some 
of the agribusiness interests. Our rural white paper makes a clear 
distinction between commercialised agriculture and farming.
But why did it happen? At the end of the day, human beings are going to do 
those things which pay them best, give them least risk and most reward. In 
the areas where a huge amount of this hedge-grabbing went on, they are now 
uncomfortable about it. But they were given every incentive to do it. This 
is why the policy framework is decisive. If you provide incentives to 
people to engage in the wrong kind of farming, they will. That is what has 
happened, and it’s closely associated with the Common Agricultural Policy, 
which has been disastrous.
Joined-up policy
oD  The degree of agreement between you is striking but also puzzling. You 
both insist on the need for a coherent overall approach. When it won its 
first election, Labour famously declared its commitment to joined-up 
government. Yet each of you is saying that there is no joined-up policy. 
The puzzle is this: all the key interests and policy advisors say there 
should be a unified policy approach  no one opposes this. So where is it?
JJ  The concept of joined-up government doesn’t have a chance because of 
the way in which we’re organised. We have these powerful departments of 
state which are inhabited by highly intelligent and powerful civil servants 
whose main job in life is to look after the interests of their political 
head, who in reality is trying to perform as an ambitious individual rather 
than as a member of a joined-up government.
RR  I agree. Take any part of the city. All government bodies which have 
anything to do with domestic life, have a role in improving the quality of 
life. This is very difficult for the government to accept. For example, if 
the schools and health services don’t work, then the community doesn’t 
work, whatever the Department of the Environment may be doing. In Britain, 
all the activities by ministers and civil servants add up to much less than 
the totality. Indeed, they could do less and it would add up to more, if it 
was done well. I mean with people, instead of treating the population as a 
natives  as the introduction to your openDemocracy debate neatly puts it. 
Here in Britain, the whole usually becomes a massive subtraction from the 
parts. If you go to Barcelona, Copenhagen or Rotterdam you’ll see how a 
creative understanding of the way things come together makes the real 
We need a cabinet minister in charge of both cities and countryside. You 
need someone to see that all policies made by each ministry are not 
counter-effective to the policies of the sustainable society that we’re 
talking about. Yes, the Urban Task Force got the recommendations at the end 
of the white paper. There is also a tick by each one. But there is a great 
gap between the tick and reality.
This can clearly be seen in the election campaign just concluded. It is 
evident that the only meaningful way to connect the city and countryside 
from the perspective of government is to have a well thought-out 
environmental policy. At the same time, none of the major political parties 
addressed this need, neither in their manifestos nor in the campaign 
itself. The environment did not exist as an election issue. Yet the 
environment surely lies at the root of almost every problem we are facing 
as a society  both long-term, like transport and global warming, and 
short-term, like foot-and-mouth. These interlocking problems are at root 
environmental, and they bridge the urban and rural spheres at every point.
My conclusion is that we really must  all of us  consider changing the way 
we live in significant ways: how and where we settle, how (and how often) 
we travel, how we balance work and leisure, how we produce and consume our 
food. These are environmental questions which should be at the top of the 
political agenda in the years to come.
On the face of it, the countryside has won. At least in the sense that 
there is unlikely to be an urban renaissance of the kind we need, because 
the odds are against the overall approach that will make it possible.
Reclaiming the streets
oD  You argue persuasively for higher density cities, but you say it’s not 
higher density that makes a community, there’s got to be other things too. 
Obviously there’s a limit to what designers and builders can do. There’s a 
spiritual and social side to this that we all know about. What do you think 
about streets  how important they are, and what has happened to them? Don’t 
you agree that a lot of what went on after the war was a completely 
fallacious concept of planning without the street as its fundamental social 
RR  I wish I could disagree with you. Yes, the British government, 
architects and engineers made a tremendous mistake after the war. The 
streets ceased to be streets for people. Again, we’re lagging well behind 
our European neighbours.
The good news is that streets are beginning to be taken back and people are 
beginning to push out the car. Copenhagen started to give the streets back 
to people about twenty years ago. Now only one third of people there move 
by car, one third by bicycle and one third by public transport. In London, 
only two per cent of people move by bicycle. The main reason being that 
it’s dangerous. In Copenhagen, there are many more cafés, although it’s 
much colder than London. They made detailed studies and put cafes where 
they catch the sun. They study the anatomy of their streets and spaces. It 
is about time that we too took back the streets  and made public transport 
work for people.
Civic society
oD  The Countryside Alliance uses the language of citizenship. The fuel 
protest even drew its inspiration from France. We have had a tradition of 
liberty in Britain but not of citizenship in the sense believing that 
government belongs to ‘We the people’. However, there was a civic, 
municipal culture. This too is now more or less completely hollowed out.
JJ  I think that’s right.
RR  It’s true. Unlike most people, the British actually like to be 
governed. They will change ruling parties as easily as they change their 
footwear. There are not the revolutions you see on the continent. Instead, 
the English are very accepting. They rarely question even their doctors or 
their professionals. They should be more questioning.
I think cities are becoming much more important and powerful. I foresee 
competitions between cities, such as Paris, Frankfurt and London. We’re 
going back to the city-state in many ways and I welcome it because it’s 
easier to associate at this scale. It’s difficult to see how either 
Britishness or Englishness will be a driver. I am one of those who see us 
going towards a Federation of Europe with city-based identities.
oD  If we are going to connect city, town and country we need some 
governing ideas. Surely the best model we should use is that of the 
network. Instead, increasingly planners  even urban planners  talk of 
‘villages’ and ‘communities’, as you have been doing. Geert Mak’s Jorwerd: 
The Death of the Village in late 20th Century Europe, suggests that the 
village is now a redundant concept. Yet it remains dominant in British 
thinking about notions of community.
RR  The reason there has been a strong movement towards the use of the word 
‘village’, even if you’re living in the city, is because there is a lack of 
community and the word ‘village’ strengthens that concept. Because cities 
are very complex and dynamic, we tend to retreat into cosy language.
At what point does the garden become the countryside? At what point does 
the countryside become town? If I have a problem it’s with suburban 
sprawl  which is neither one thing or another because it has no community. 
Community applies to having not only people who know each other, but also 
the ease of involvement of strangers for the exchanging of ideas. 
Communities are for mixed use, for work and leisure, they contain the 
corner shops or school, and these are the elements we need.
JJ  In large cities, it is hugely difficult to create a sense of community 
in any meaningful way. In the countryside now, too, a large number of 
villages have lost all their shops, post office, school and even bus 
service. In response, we’re seeing the emergence of hubs  little towns 
surrounded by villages. If people can relate to a place which they all know 
and use, that is something which helps to glue communities together. 
Perhaps this is the start of a network model.
I can see why people are worried about the Alliance and what we say about 
the countryside. We do not want it to be perceived as a battlefield. But 
every time a pollster appears on television and says that you must remember 
that most of the votes are in the towns, countryside people look at the 
programme and say. ‘By God, we had better look after ourselves’. This then 
reinforces a flight from political parties. They are supposed to have an 
overall view. People increasingly feel they don’t.
I worry that the Countryside Alliance is too successful. It’s not healthy 
that a campaigning organisation should be growing so fast when the 
membership of political parties is in decline, and when our form of 
parliamentary democracy is in trouble. Two days before polling day I 
attended a very large meeting of rural people who had come together to 
discuss what concerned them and how to influence policy after the election. 
The suggestion that they should talk to their MPs would have been greeted 
by a gale of laughter. We should all worry about that.
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