Britain could lose most of its traditional countryside in just a generation, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) warned on 8 September. Apparently plans to build new homes threaten to concrete over the countryside.
The CPRE’s fears are shared by many. Not just the Daily Mail and the Tory shires, but Urban Taskforce chairman Richard Rogers and Guardianistas like Tristram Hunt and Ros Coward are up in arms about the threat to Britain’s countryside.
But is there really any danger of concreting over the countryside? The answer is no. Just do the maths.
Few people will believe it when you tell them, but only 12 per cent of the UK is built up, whereas fully three-quarters is farmland. The reason that they do not believe you is partly to do with the psychology of perception, and partly to do with deeply held fears. We perceive the UK as overwhelmingly a built-up country, because almost all of us live in built-up areas. The country that we move around in, nine-tenths of the time, is concreted over. But that does not mean that that is all there is. If you fly over England you will see that vast stretches of it are green: eighty-eight per cent of it, in fact.
More profoundly, the belief that concrete is swallowing up the countryside arises out of our social attitudes. The countryside stands for virgin nature, untouched by human hand (which is ironic, considering it is entirely the product of agricultural development). The town, by contrast, stands for the artificial. As the old saying goes: God made the country, man made the town.