In earlier times people foresaw the need to restrict growth of our towns and cities by ensuring that sufficient land was left untouched by building. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth 1st recognised the need to restrict building and ensured a three mile stretch of green land to restrict the spread of infectious disease, which at that time was the fear of the plague. However, even before then people realised the importance of keeping enough land surrounding towns and villages that would ensure food supplies, enable space for recreation, sports and even fayres and markets. Prior to that these spaces were valued as an essential defense against attacking enemies. Whatever the reason it was always considered necessary to allow space for nature to thrive and survive as the balance was and always has been essential for our survival throughout the centuries.
Nowadays sadly we are losing a link between that natural balance, more so in urbanised areas. In general food is imported and transported great distances, livestock intensively farmed and shipped in and we seem to have lost respect for the need to keep green spaces protected for such resources, especially with future requirements in mind. We hear news stories reporting on scientific findings that tell us that natural green spaces are good for people’s mental health and should be used for exercise and recreation. These reports seem considered to be somewhat of a revelation in their findings for something that is purely natural and obvious to many: these spaces should be taken for granted, protected and not up for challenge. Sadly for us we have moved into an era where the obvious now needs scientific evidence, relentless debate and protest to defend what is a natural basic need.
As a district, Epping Forest has always been seen and used as part of the official and unofficial green belt, our towns and villages still hold the memorials to our past relationships with the land that surrounds us, in fact they exist because of the land. Buildings such as Lopping Hall mark the fact that we had a distinct reliance that needed to be offset for our losses and Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge marks the ties the area has even with Royal recreation. The distinct nature of the area comprises of towns and villages with green space in and around them.
The purposes of establishing the green belt was to prevent towns merging, to stop the expansion of big towns and cities and to preserve the character of towns and villages. High density housing and development is not something that is historic, it is not characteristic and with regards to the green spaces in and around our towns not something that is beneficial in the long run to the existing community.
There is an aspect that seems to be ignored.
Without the sufficient protection of our natural capital the rest of what humans have created sits upon a foundation which is unsound. The foundations of society in general are dependent on basic natural resources and as we all know if your foundations are weak, flawed or insufficient the rest of the structure cannot be supported. This applies on a local, regional and national level.
We are increasingly moving towards a dependence on science to supply food, yet the answer doesn’t need to be found in a test tube – oddly it is just outside your windows and doors, it is nature. What we have allowed is a disconnect between natural resources and the foundations of what human social and built capital sits on. You don’t have to have a degree in science, a sudden shift of political conscience, neither feel the need to wear a hemp handbag – the respect and understanding of this should span political divide: it is a basic human concern.
We hear many different terms when the destruction of natural capital is being laid on the table, sustainability, responsibility and so on. These terms are simply nonsense and really an insult as they refer to human and built capital, not to what they pretend as sustainability and responsibility has a different meaning when applied to natural resources and it’s not building all over it.
So, what does this have to do with Epping Forest?
Housing, or rather the plans to build substantial amounts once again. Is there actually a national or local housing crisis? We haven’t noticed big herds of people wandering aimlessly looking for homes locally and in the area but nonetheless as a district we are obliged to provide for the national need. It’s a government directive. It is a built capital crisis or human capital issue but the real crisis is a natural one. The loser in all of this is our natural capital, the foundation of everything. So, is the answer to our human or built capital crisis one that means you destroy your support structure? Would you extend your home off past the foundations? No, you wouldn’t be allowed to, and common sense dictates it would be a stupid thing to do. Yet we are demanding, allowing and actively seeking to destroy the very thing that supports us in the first place. This is contrary to common sense.
So, is the national housing crisis an issue because of a lack of housing, land or space within our cities or rather an economic crisis? It must be economic as the options of how to deal with the housing crisis are dictated by business, or rather the ability for business to construct houses, not government or communities, and it’s therefore dealing with two economic issues under the guise of one. The “visions” for the local plans that all local authorities are dealing with or will very soon have to, is not unique to an area. The localism illusion focuses people’s minds on a small area and counteracts the potential of people realising that everywhere we are selling the country off by the pound. In many areas where there is opposition to construction on local greenbelt many people rationalize that there is a need for houses and so accept the consequences as they are unaware of neighboring areas plans to build even more. Whilst in principal localism could be considered a good thing one of the downsides is awareness, or the lack of, as something that could be happening close by would never be reported or discussed. Regionalism or the aspects of regional management are pretty much a hidden mystery to many and not portrayed as important in the main.
Indeed, within the district of Epping Forest it is pretty much impossible to easily travel to our regional capital let alone be offered a wider view of the amount of planned construction of houses or in real terms destruction of natural capital that is happening county wide or even regionally to assist us in making high impact decisions or the implications of local loss of natural assets. The moment the “visions” of this round of destruction have been wriggled through the next round of destruction will have to be put into plan. The current destruction plans have been creeping along for nearly a decade and are only now being realised by many as the poor level of consultation, poor communication and lack of real implications has left people unaware of what is going on. For a basic analogy you could say we have been treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed with manure!
Should our regional or local obligations to national government be one of enforced destruction of our natural capital or should we have not for the past decade been looking towards an alternative way to assist the pressures facing human and built capital needs? Would the vast sums of money spent employing international specialists in land assessment not be better spent looking at alternative solutions to an impending local or regional need rather than a reactionary response to a national economic crisis? We have low impact alternative housing designs, not concrete solutions and plasterboard boxes, there are ways to accommodate housing without the destruction of the natural environment, but they are not even factored because, as we have already realised, this is a surreptitious boost to an economic crisis. Basically no one will pay now but all of us will in the long run.
Even the most ardent of high density living supporters and grey box loving urbanites all still have some inbuilt link and tie to our obligation towards natural capital, for a couple of weeks a year if they are lucky they feel the compelling need to travel vast distances to be close to the elements, to sit on a shore line and soak up the benefits of nature, and yet for the rest of the year support the destruction of natural assets because “we need houses don’t we!” Well actually, no. We need to have a rethink of just what we need to provide and survive and to do that we need to stop, resist the destruction of further green space until we have exhausted the alternatives and taken the nonsense out of the plan.
In real terms:
Local development plan: Local application of national enforced legislation for natural capital stripping.
Sustainable development: Developments at slightly less profit than could be achieved if the rules did not prevent it
Responsibility: Agreement for developers to adhere to the rules if they really must.
Visioning: selling a business concept to you
In our district’s local plan many of the figures and facts that are being used to justify the need to build on green space are somewhat out of date. Responses from surveys carried out by our council managed to reach a staggering 1.1% return rate and even within those small numbers the results indicate green space is precious and must be protected, yet we are still as a district looking to build on large areas of green space for an apparent demand. No post Brexit studies have been used for revising population statistics and the largest growth rate within population in the area is apparently old people. This is misleading in terms as we don’t “grow” old people or go out of the way to attract them into the area. This is based on dubious statistics that fail to take wider factors into account. In many cases old people are already accommodated in their own houses so the projected 5000 increase being used as a reason to build by the end of the next decade is flawed.
We are being duped into believing the need to provide more homes in every area of the country is in response to a massive population swell, whereas the real need is by big business pushing the successive governments into creating a market environment that supports the national house building program that these big businesses need to survive. Many on government and local authority contracts are unsustainable businesses without these contracts. Carillon is a prime example of this failing practice.
We must move on from the concept that public land is as such something that we have some form of ownership right over as indeed public land is in the end government owned land. The Government essentially owns your local council and we nominate representatives to have a small say over some issues however we do not own the government as once again we have a small say via representatives of certain topics and issues. Public land is government or state owned and they are selling off natural capital to support built capital much the same as the great gold reserve sell off. This is the next step. We do have a responsibility however to protect natural capital as “people” – our stake is community based which is the bridge between the two demands. We either focus as we are led to on built capital or preserve the natural capital with the knowledge it is there to protect and support us.