Geoffrey Lean pioneered the coverage of green issues long before they became fashionable and has won Scoop of the Year in the British Press Awards and the Martha Gelhorn Award for investigative journalism.
Geoffrey Lean - news, views and opinions on green and environment issues: earth, finance, world, conservation, community - Telegraph
He has featured frequently in this blog:
Futures Forum: Feniton "has been central to the greatest storm yet to burst over the way the Government’s flawed planning policies are allowing builders to 'lay siege' to rural England."
Futures Forum: What to do about car emissions: from Paris to London... yet again...
Futures Forum: The national press and the IPCC report... and Climate Change
Futures Forum: Fracking: "smoke and mirrors"
He wrote in yesterday's Telegraph:
This housing free-for-all is scarring our most precious countryside
The Coalition's planning reforms have permitted grotesquely inappropriate development to flourish
It could be hard to find a worse place to build more than 750 houses. The hillside they would scar above the village of Mudford, north of Yeovil, forms part of a spectacular view that takes in Cadbury Castle, the reputed site of Camelot, and the picturesque ancient Dorset village of Trent. It also stands above the Somerset Levels, so the extra water likely to run off the concrete could contribute to their notorious floods.
The innocent-sounding Primrose Lane development would treble the size of Mudford and be connected to an accident-prone, often congested road, while being poorly served by public transport. And to cap it all, villagers attest that the site has a long history of being used as a burial site for anthrax-infected cows.
Not long ago, South Somerset District Council agreed that of all the areas around Yeovil, this was one of “the least favourable to take new development”, which would have a “detrimental impact on existing road congestion”. It would be among “the least likely locations to encourage public transport” and almost certainly “impact on high landscape settings”. Yet now the council has earmarked it as a favoured “sustainable” area for housing and the Government is soon expected to agree. Primrose Lane seems to have been put on a primrose path.
This astonishing turnabout undermines the chief defence that the Government offers towns and villages against inappropriate development. For the many places besieged by speculative mass housebuilding, it has a simple message: get a Local Plan.
Under the Coalition’s controversial planning reforms, long contested by The Telegraph, the two in every five councils that do not yet have an up-to-date plan in place are effectively defenceless, however unsuitable the site. Ministers say that adopting one makes local people “sovereign”– while they cannot restrict much-needed housing, they do get to decide the best places for it to go.
But in area after area, this promise looks increasingly shaky. South Somerset council had drawn up a plan that would have sited all Yeovil’s new housing far away to the east – only for a Government planning inspector to reject it, leaving the area open to a free-for-all. The council says it then identified the Mudford area as suitable, and included it in a revised plan, after a “sustainability appraisal”. Local parish councillors believe that in fact, it realised developers were eyeing the area, and saw this as a way of solving their problem.
Anyway, the council was caught in a Catch-22. If it had not used the site to complete a new plan, Mudford would have remained planless, and thus unable stop builders developing as they chose.
In Sussex, there are similar fears of local wishes being overridden by Government inspectors. The Horsham and Mid Sussex District Councils, the local parish councils and the two local MPs – former ministers Nick Herbert and Nicholas Soames – are all resisting a proposal for a 10,000-house “new market town” in ancient countryside in the shadow of the South Downs.
The developers propose it as a better way to meet housing need than expanding local towns and villages. But the area looks highly unsuitable – flood-prone, wildlife-rich, reachable only by narrow roads, and intruding on what Constable called “the grandest view in the world”, from Devil’s Dyke. Both councils have excluded it from the local plans they are preparing – but the developers have challenged this, and could be backed by the planning inspectorate.
Yet even when the plans have been approved, and are fully adopted, communities are not safe. This week, Liam Fox MP held an adjournment debate about the “ridiculous position” in his North Somerset constituency, where a local plan had been successfully challenged in the courts, enabling developers to try to “grab large greenfield housing sites” near villages.
A new National Trust report shows that most rural councils that correctly put local plans in place, and allocated specific sites for development, are still under pressure from housebuilders wanting to use unsuitable land. In Norfolk, South Cambridgeshire and Devon – in a supposedly protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the councils had to give way.
The Trust says developers “game” the system, exploiting a provision in the official National Planning Policy Framework that obliges councils to set aside a five-year supply of building land and penalises them if construction lags. That might seem reasonable – but the planning inspectorate interprets the provision so stringently that councils are victimised if, for example, construction rates slow due to recession or developers themselves delay building after getting planning permission.
This week, a parliamentary select committee report – which broadly vindicated the Telegraph’s campaign – voiced concern at the provision’s “unexpected and negative consequences” and recommended changes. Certainly, urgent action is needed if the Government’s planning policies are not to prove as toxic as anthrax itself.
Why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a blue-eyed boy
We all know the colour of Rudolph’s nose. But what about his eyes? Well, since he lives in the Arctic, and it’s midwinter, they are bound to have turned blue.
Research at the University of Tromsø – nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle – as well as University College London and the Moorfields eye hospital found that a part of reindeers’ eyes, uniquely among mammals, changes colour with the seasons to help them see better during two months of darkness.
The reflective tapetum lucidum – which causes the eyes of animals like cats to glow at night – is usually golden. It is in reindeer, too – in summer. In winter, however, it turns deep blue. This seems to scatter the reflective light so that it reaches more ocular photoreceptors, helping Rudolph to navigate all these chimney pots.
Mind you, there are exceptions. Reindeer living at the Norwegian university all year round don’t experience the full darkness of winter, thanks to the town’s artificial lighting – so their peepers go an intermediate green. And, of course, if Rudolph shares in all that whisky left for Santa on Wednesday night, his eyes will doubtless turn as red as his snout.
The wolves among us
Europeans, it seems, have stopped being afraid of the big, bad wolf. And as a result, they – and other large carnivores – are booming on the continent, despite it being one of the most industrialised places on earth.
Europe, a new study in Science concludes, now “hosts twice as many wolves (over 11,000) as the contiguous United States despite being half the size and more than twice as densely populated”. It also has 17,000 brown bears – nearly 10 times the number of their grizzly bear cousins in the US – some 9,000 lynx and 1,250 wolverines. In all, one third of the continent outside the British Isles has at least one of these species.
The study – by 76 leading biologists from 54 European institutions – attributes this howling success to a readiness to coexist with carnivores that stems from the work of the environmental movement. In some places, wolves survive in areas with 3,050 people per square kilometre – roughly the population density of Hastings.
Not everyone is happy, of course. French farmers have protested against their attacks on sheep and cabinet minister Ségolène Royal says “there are too many wolves”. Of course, she may be influenced by having long lived with the priapic François Hollande.
This housing free-for-all is scarring our most precious countryside - Telegraph
Planning - the latest news and comment on green politics - Telegraph