More used to putting his feelings into verse, Sir Andrew Motion has launched a personal attack on planning minister Nick Boles over proposals to build over the British countryside that left him “somewhere between horror and enormous anger”.
More than two million acres of virgin countryside are under threat, said the president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, after Mr Boles called for an increase in development of a third.
He told Newsnight that: “In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about nine per cent of land developed. All we need to do is build on another two to three per cent of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”
He added: “The built environment can be more beautiful than nature, and we shouldn’t obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open – sometimes buildings are better.”
But in an interview with yesterday’s Observer, shortly after addressing a meeting of the CPRE in Bath, the former poet laureate criticised the “incredibly irresponsible” planning minister, whose father was a head of the National Trust, for
his inappropriately “abrasive and irksome” attitude.
The criticism is timed to be fresh in people’s minds when George Osborne makes his Autumn Statement on Wednesday this week, which is likely to include more incentives for house building to tackle the country’s shortage.
Sir Andrew, who succeeded writer Bill Bryson this year, said: “On just about every level what he said was wrong. Start at the level of fact: he said that nine per cent of our countryside is bricked over; by CPRE reckoning it is actually already more like 12 per cent. And that doesn’t take into account the collateral effects of development. About 50 per cent of our land is already compromised in some way.”
Market towns and villages in the West are under particular threat, as rising prices force young families from rural areas, leaving the countryside with an ageing population.
Sir Andrew continued: “The underlying problem is this idea that in a difficult economic time you can just lighten the burden of planning regulation as a kind of short-term fix.
“Clearly there are issues around housing, but clearly also not nearly enough is being done to develop brownfield sites,” he told the Observer. “And we know what will happen if this goes through: builders will slap up new estates in the most desirable places; they will snap up prime land in addition to the vast tracts of undeveloped land they own already.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The government has repeatedly made clear that our reforms safeguard the countryside and the new framework maintains previous protections for green belt and countryside.
“It also puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected. The green belt provides the vital green lung against urban sprawl and local plans must have clear regard to this policy in the national framework.”