My former PhD supervisor, Chris Blackmore, is lamenting the UK Government’s over-ruling of local planning decisions so as to have a Centre Parcs, a chain of forest holiday activity centres, constructed near where she lives. A consequence will be that the local community will be denied access to a part of the countryside they have long enjoyed. This unless they buy their tickets into what will become the fenced-off forest village. Chris’ analysis of the government’s decision is both impassioned and I trust very astute -
[...] Aside of losing one of my favourite walking areas what concerns me are the values implicit here – that someone at national level who doesn’t give a damn about rural Bedfordshire knows better than planners and communities at local level. That “It will attract a greater number of visitors to local sites and amenities in and around Bedfordshire.” is automatically perceived as a good thing. To me it’s consistent with Government’s plans for economic growth rather than sustainable development. There’s such a lot of papering over of the many potential adverse impacts ….swamping of local villages which will have smaller communities than this village, dominating the area with a Centre Parcs culture which has no sensitivity to local history and culture, taking over the whole wood not a part of it as with other Centre Parcs villages, the huge potential impact of increased traffic and new traffic infrastructure in an area that’s already being significantly disrupted in this way. Extra employment? Yes – but according to newspaper coverage at the time of the appeal that won’t necessarily be of local people or even people currently in the UK. It’s also setting a precedent for building on green belt land and limiting public access to the countryside.
There are also unacknowledged opportunity costs – just because the woodland is a bit run down at present does not mean that it can’t be managed more effectively for biodiversity and for public use in future rather than fenced off for extra weekend travel and tourism. Like with road building, I’m convinced that the result of providing this kind of amenity will encourage extra trips rather than replace people’s holidays abroad.
No doubt Centre Parcs and the Woburn Estates are well connected at Westminster whereas local people aren’t. [...]
Click here for a photograph of the place, Warren Woods, that will now be ‘enclosed’ – a phenomenon with long historical roots. Don’t hesitate to share ideas as to what to do in response to such an impoverished governmental decision. (I’d propose to lobby for the Government and civil service to be trained in the crafts of systemic analysis and action.) I was particularly struck with the image of yet another Centre Parcs being dumped on a place that has the potential for more intelligent and sympathetic futures.
This is another example of the UK Government riding roughshod over communal sense – as Chris went on to suggest. It seems to be happening, for reasons that are even less explicit, in relation to the consultation about the building of a new generation of nuclear power stations. I’m unsurprised a group of six environmental organisations in the UK (including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth) has recently termed the government’s consultation ‘an expensive sham‘. I remember being exasperated, having spent more than an hour filling in the government’s consultation form online, to learn in the national press a couple of days later that the decision to go ahead with the building programme had already been made, even though the consultation was still going on! What a nonsense.