Good News & Bad over planning law relaxations?

Mark mark at
Wed Dec 20 16:38:11 GMT 2006

Now you see it ...

Planning law relaxations and spats over EU rules don't bode well for
Britain's landscape and wildlife - but it's not all bad news

John Vidal
Wednesday December 20, 2006
The Guardian

Take a long look next year at the fields and empty spaces around most of
Britain's cities, because in 20 years or less they may be full of
supermarkets, "sustainable" villages, new runways, windfarms, golf courses
and leisure parks. The "green belt", which covers almost a sixth of
England, has been eroded bit by bit for 50 years, but 2006 is likely to go
down as the year when a Labour government justified ditching the best
known - and, arguably, most successful - environmental protection
legislation of the past 50 years.

Ruth Kelly, secretary of state in the department of Communities and local
government leapt to disagree but that was the verdict of many planners,
local authorities and conservationists after economist Kate Barker's
planning law review in December for the Treasury.
Her recommendations to speed up and ease planning processes to allow big
industry to build what and where it wants, and little people to stick what
they like on their roofs, is still being mulled over. But with the
government pressing on with plans to build 700,000 homes in south-east
England, and with aviation and bigger roads certain to further destroy
tranquillity, rural Britain at the close of 2006 appears to be at a points
of crisis.

Chewing up countryside

In fact, town and country both had a rough time in 2006, say analysts. The
Campaign to Protect Rural England found traffic growing faster on rural
roads than in urban areas, the proportion of places enjoying dark skies
dropping precipitously, farmers leaving the land in droves, and roads and
housing chewing up countryside. The New Economics Foundation railed
against the growth of "clone town" Britain - the homogenisation of urban

In fact, the globalisation process, courtesy of the US, EU and World Trade
Organisation, was driving much of the change in 2006. Monster distribution
sheds were lined up to handle burgeoning imports, and environment groups
fought plans to greatly enlarge air and sea ports. Proof that Britain was
in the frontline came in the shape of the world's largest ship, the Emma
Maersk, which arrived in the Suffolk port of Felixstowe in November loaded
with goods in 11,000 containers on its maiden voyage back from China.

Dubbed the SS Santa because its cargo was mainly for the Christmas market,
it illustrated well how China has become the global factory, and how
Europe now depends on it.

Local authorities, meanwhile, concerned themselves with recycling. Figures
last week showed that North Kesteven, in Lincolnshire, is top of the
league table, recycling 51% of its waste. Tower Hamlets, east London, is
the worst, with 8.9%. In between, Ellesmere Port and Redcar led the "most
improved" category with 20% increases. Overall, 261 authorities (66%) met
or exceeded their targets - Labour can at least say it has quadrupled
recycling rates in nine years.

But it was also a year of embarrassments. The Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) got a new chief in David Miliband, but he
was immediately forced to cut budgets by £200m because of Asian bird flu
and the farcical non-payments of farm subsidies that would not go away.
That left a difficult birth in October for Natural England, the advisers
to government on everything ecological. It has survived its first few
months without incident but must soon show its true colours.

Meanwhile, as Britain's creaking fleet of 30-year-old nuclear power
stations spent more time than ever out of service, and the government
opted to build a deep repository to take their waste, windfarms
proliferated across Britain. Significant battles were fought - and
sometimes won - by objectors, who began to score points overecologically
illiterate developers. The most damaging of farms proposed in 2006 was on
the Hebridean isle of Lewis. If it goes ahead, it will require more than
100 miles of road to service some 180 turbines on a protected peat bog.

A far smaller wind farm at Whinash, on the edge of the Lake District, was
opposed by David Bellamy and others, prompting Greenpeace UK director
Stephen Tindale to say: "Any government that wants to expand airports and
turn down windfarms is not fit to govern."

In fact, the new draft planning and climate change supplement to PPS1
could make a big difference next year. The British Wind Energy Association
reckons that wind projects representing about 5% of UK electricity supply
are now held up in the planning system. This week, the government
announced two major offshore farms.

But some of the most significant long-term changes to the British
environment may have taken place in Europe. New legislation on chemicals
was passed after an epic battle between green groups and chemical
companies, which employed dirty lobbying tactics to try to derail the
greens. The legislation was watered down, and endocrine disrupting
chemicals can carry on polluting, but Europe will no longer have to live
with many hazardous chemicals. Similarly, new air quality legislation was
weakened by industry lobbying, and the new European laws fall short even
of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

For its part, Britain adopted an almost horizontal pose when it came to
transferring EU law. The Weee directive on waste and electrics was delayed
another year, and Defra and the Department of Trade and Industry had a
major spat over the environmental liability directive. This will now
exclude further protection for the UK's ailing sites of special scientific

The Commission failed to appeal against the WTO's GM ruling but
environment ministers this week surprisingly stepped in to defy the WTO
voting to allow Austria to keep bans on two GM maizes in a major snub to
the biotech industry and commission.

Rows with scientists

Further afield, the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl
was marked by WHO insisting that the accident killed fewer than 50 people
and barely did human or ecological harm. The UN's proposition that the
tens of thousands of people suffering from cancers and radiation-type
sicknesses are really suffering from poverty, led to rows with scientists
from across the world.

Meanwhile, all London held its breath as a whale turned up in the Thames
and died, the Japanese took over the International Whaling Commission by
some massaging of the aid budgets of developing countries, and Iceland
resumed commercial whaling after 21 years.

Charismatic megafauna generally fared badly. Concern grew for lowland
gorillas in central Africa after more than 5,000 were estimated to have
died from ebola outbreaks, and five out of 19 populations of polar bears
were found to be in decline.

The World Conservation Union highlighted the seriousness of the worldwide
crisis. One by one, the building blocks of entire ecosystems are
disappearing as climate change, forest fires, habitat destruction and
exploitation accelerates. "It's like taking one brick after another from a
wall," said WWF. "Eventually, it will crumble. The planet's resources are
being pushed to the limit."

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list