Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Green Grey Conrete Grass of Home

Dorking from space
Not so very long ago in the classified section of our local newspaper, The Dorking Advertiser, there was for sale three acres of pastureland some miles south of us. The asking price was £70.000 and no doubt it was snapped up immediately. What's remarkable about this is that the average value of agricultural land for England in 2013 was £10.300 an acre and this parcel, being in the greenbelt, was most definitely agricultural and therefore never likely to get planning permission. Or so it used to be!
You see, if you can get planning permission its value goes up and in 2013 the average cost per acre for building land was £33.300 and even higher, I would think, in the south east.

So what on earth is happening? Well the Government is the answer. It has ordered all local authorities to identify areas of green belt on which new homes could be built, although it is doubtful it is in anyway for the benefit of locals who could not afford the £550.000 most affordable new builds go for around here. I fear it is more to do with intense lobbying by developers who have been feeling the pinch in the recession with low profits. Much the same way the lobbying of oil industry led to that unedifying spectacle of Tony Blair kissing the mad dog Kadafi in order to secure a £billion oil deal for BP.

Mole Valley District Council response was to start a consultation (which is now half way through) on a document called 'the Housing and Travellers Sites Plan' where developers were invited to submit their investments for housing. Sixty sites are in the plan but once the consultation began a further twenty were quickly added as speculators suddenly realised the significance of the document. It seems that this is the new Klondike, that there is gold in them thar Surrey Hills, that those that are not chosen for development this time around will be first in line for the next wave, for as the document states 'saying NO is not an option'. Not that taking part seems that easy either as one action group has been set up to help objectors phrase their responses in the 'councilese' favoured by all officials unable to understand plain English and another action group to simply say NO.

The Green Belt was born in post war Britain when the 'tide of London development' had got to the point where London was not a nice place to live. I know, I grew up there, and remember clearly going to school in those infamous London smogs that were so thick that busses had to crawl along searching for the kerb with powerful fog lights. The town planners answer was to throw a green lung around London, a line in the sand if you will, and say, no more development - this land is inviolate. And with 9 out of 10 people in Britain now living in urban areas those green lungs are becoming precious for our health, wellbeing and sanity.

There was a television programme on recently called 'New Lives in the Wild' where Ben Fogle spent a week living in the Himalayan Foothills with the most marvellously eccentric character Steve Lall, former Indian Air Force fighter pilot and contrarian kicked out for refusing orders, who ran an isolated hill station with his wife. Totally isolated they resisted all inroads into their way of life chasing off trespassers taking fodder and wood. When Ben asked if he felt sympathy for the villagers Steve said 'pick up a handful of soil, that inch you hold has taken a thousand years to form and when its gone its gone forever'. Why must we go to the Himalayas for wisdom?

Dorking - a unique Town