by Peter Howard
The concession by the UK government that fracking for shale gas would only take place in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the most exceptional circumstances has been seen by some as a cowardly refusal to implement a complete ban in Protected Areas. However, it is more a cowardly concession to the well-heeled.
It follows a path that is beginning to look very worn. Windfarms are largely to be restricted to undesignated places, and the idea of biodiversity offsets was also targeted to take from the undesignated and give to the Protected Areas, and other planning decisions follow the same trajectory.
Surely, however, the National Parks, and even our AsONB belong to the nation, i.e. to all of us? That may indeed have been the intention, but it became obvious as early as the 1960s that rural gentrification was afoot. Make something desirable and those wealthy enough will buy it. All our estate agents will recognise the premium of a property in a National Park, and the lower premium in an AONB. Over time these become the enclaves of the well-heeled, and their voting intentions will be safe for the current government. Even the visitors to these areas are above average income. Some real attempts to change this have probably reduced the average age of the Park visitor but they still remain comparatively well off, and very white.
This Government has developed a basic policy of dividing the country into Protected Areas (with solid political majorities) and the rest, the dumping grounds, where anything goes. Their own advisors, Natural England, have long ago moved away from such facile zoning, recognising that with our limited land and booming population we have to recognise Natural Areas as all being special but different. However, the conservationists themselves are largely employed within the Protected Areas and show clear signs also of being content with a zoning system that keeps their jobs safe. Indeed they are often the most vociferous in favour of single use land … the nature reserves resist any other land use as fervently as the golf course.
The policy is not clearly articulated. If it were, then its contravention of the European Landscape Convention, to which the UK is signatory, would be evident to all. The Convention is clear that all landscapes, urban and rural, designated and undesignated, are significant to their inhabitants, who have a right to participate in decisions which alter landscapes.
If the maps indicating the new areas for fracking are accurate, then the particular undesignated landscape where I live, the dumping ground between the two wealthy enclaves of Dartmoor to the south and Exmoor to the north, may be safe from this particular development, as not geologically suitable. Meanwhile the wind turbines go up all around as they cannot go along the coast, where the wind is better, but the people richer.
Is it time for residents of the dumping grounds to unite?
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