29 August 2009

What price for our back yards?

By Marguerite Finn

The surveyor, naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau held that the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

The price of the land must have figured in the minds of those proposing the 'Norfolk Hub Development', (appropriately dubbed 'Disney World for the Broads', EDP 27 July), of four square kilometres of farmland between my village of Little Plumstead and the gateway to the Broads at Wroxham. The proposal for a massive conference and tourism complex includes eleven hotels, a sports centre, outdoor stage, golf course, lorry parks…

What sort of 'life' would the developers exchange for this? Doubtless they took into account the increased traffic, road accidents, building-site mishaps, late-night violence and gang warfare that concreting over prime agricultural land would inevitably cost. Maybe they exchanged those in their minds for the new human life inhabiting the built environment? Did they think of the genocide of invertebrate life, from earthworms to ladybirds, and of plants from algae to dandelions, in every cubic metre of soil they would replace with tarmac and bricks? Does their balance sheet mention the sea-floor life extinguished by the dredging of building aggregate for concrete? The dictionary definition of "concrete" is "formed into one mass" – spot-on for the true objective of this development: to produce a concrescence stretching from Norwich to Wroxham, engulfing discrete Broadland villages and their communities all along the way. The Broads Authority has objected to Broadland District Council's (BDC) proposals and to the notion of "closing up the gaps" between the distinct communities of Norwich and Wroxham.

Where will the rainwater go, denied the 'sponge' effect of the soil? The run-off will cascade into the River Bure causing it to flood. Or, has the government magically taken care of that by proposing to replace the existing Internal Drainage Boards, thereby consigning a tried and tested system of drainage and flood prevention to the dustbin?

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn said recently that Britain must produce more of its own food to help prevent the rising world population from going hungry. So the developers plan to grow conferences on good land here while our entrepreneurs grab Ukrainian land to grow wheat on! That’s a joke worthy of Micky Mouse.

And what about those who presently enjoy the peace of 'messing about in boats' in this unique part of the world? Who needs expensive leisure centres in such a naturally unspoilt and beautiful place?

If that makes NIMBYs (Not In My back Yard) of all the plants, animals and humans who would suffer from the Norfolk Hub, then so be it. Such an irrevocable transformation in our landscape involves all of us and our back yards. No matter when – or if – we climb out of this economic recession, the world has changed and we must change too in order to survive climate change, resource wars and a population explosion. One way of coping is to re-connect with Nature. Environmentalist Satish Kumar, writing in Resurgence, says: "The cause of these multiple crises is our disconnection from the place where we belong. Wherever we live we need to be rooted in our place." Spreading urbanisation mitigates against a sense of place and produces a sense of alienation.

Thoreau's back yard was a pond in Massachusetts. The former Brazilian environment minister Marina Silva's back yard is the rainforest. She resigned from the country's ruling party, berating the country's leaders for pursuing material wealth at the expense of the natural world, and may stand for president. Would that they could join Broadland District Council – and the latest outfit, the Broadland Growth Project - bringing practical common sense to offset the current virulent outbreak of Developer's delirium.

Since they can't, we must deal with it ourselves; BDC's consultation ends on 4th September.

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