...next time you are stuck in one of those inching lava flows of red tail- lights...
Kate Barker..has come up with a proposal..to release some Green Belt land for development, starting with the grottier bits, then the cost of housing would go down...
Do we really need these new buildings all over the Green Belt in the South-east? ..Is that really the objective of government - to maximise revenue, and wreck rural England?
The green way to save our Green Belt
You know that feeling you get when you are in a traffic jam, and you have been stuck there for about two hours, and you know that your children are once again going to bed without their bed-time story; and there is a sudden Incredible Hulk-style transformation in your metabolism, and your eyes roll, and you gibber and you chew your tie and rend your shirt and have fantasies of simply pulling over on to the hard shoulder and abandoning the vehicle and making a new life as a stress therapist.
Have you ever had that? I was once driving an old Peugeot, and after I realised that I had been stationed next to the same pointless traffic cone for about 20 minutes I started rocking in my seat and shaking the steering wheel until it suddenly bent like a pretzel, which was faintly embarrassing since it was someone else's car. And I think of myself as a man of fairly equable temper.
Next time you are stuck in one of those inching lava flows of red tail-lights, think of what it must be like for people without the natural stoicism and self-discipline of Telegraph readers: think of the wails, the blubbering, the bust blood vessels. Think what is happening to our national quality of life. In the words of that despairing piece of graffiti by the side of the M40, "Why do we do this every day?" The answer is that we have no choice. We know that the traffic is getting worse every year; we know that the number of cars on the roads has doubled in the past 20 years. But what else can we do? The cost of a 40-mile round trip by rail seems to be more than a week's holiday in Barbados.
We have to make these appalling and life-shortening journeys because we simply can't afford to live any nearer our work. And why can't we afford to live nearer our work? Well, the economist Kate Barker has looked at the map, and she has seen what she thinks is the problem.
Around every big urban development in this country there is this thing called the Green Belt. Beyond the Green Belt are smaller towns inhabited by commuters, and every morning these poor saps get in their cars and queue to pass through these sacred green reservations to their jobs in the cities, and every evening they return through the narrow tarmac defiles, sweating and swearing and degrading the atmosphere with their oaths and their carbon emissions.
So Kate has looked at the map, and she has come up with the obvious answer. If only we could release some of this land for development, starting with the grottier bits, then the cost of housing would go down! And people would have shorter journeys to work! And we would produce less CO2!
So let's go really green, says Kate, and destroy the Green Belt. Well, I don't need to rehearse all the objections, but we all know that if Barker's suggestions were taken to their logical conclusion they would amount to the biggest change to the British landscape since the enclosures.
If she gets her way, future generations will look down on the South-east - as they flee, for the last time, from Gatwick - and see a kind of Mexico City. In days to come the name Barker will rank in the architectural lexicon with terms like Georgian or Victorian. "An attractive Barker terrace", the estate agents will say; or "a chance to buy in the heart of this traditional ribbon-development Barker village"; and Berkshire might as well be renamed Barkshire.
The trouble with her proposal to develop the less idyllic pieces of the Green Belt is that one man's pylon-infested dump is another man's rural dream; and no sooner do the Barker homes march on to the pylon-infested dump than the developers start looking greedily at the really green spaces nearby, and soon big yellow machines are slicing up the fields and linking one village with the next.
Of course she is right that we need more housing. Every MP knows the misery of those who are stuck in inadequate council accommodation. But do we really need these new buildings all over the Green Belt in the South-east? Have we exhausted the potential of brown-field sites?
Above all, the whole business is so deeply anti-democratic. What is the point of having locally elected politicians, determined to do the best for their voters, if their opinions can be simply crushed?
These are precisely the questions that people care about with the deepest feeling, because it is a very ancient human instinct to want to see fields and trees and sky, and we don't want to wake up and find we are in a Barker-devised suburbia imposed either by the quangocrats in the regional authorities or by this sinister new Independent Planning Office.
I'd still like to know why the Government is determined to knock down houses in the North, and force houses on the South, and I still suspect that it is because they are only interested in money. The South-east is the great tax generator, and the more it looks like Hong Kong the more money flows into the Treasury. Is that really what life is about? Is that really the objective of government - to maximise revenue, and wreck rural England?
I'd like someone to explain why it is so unthinkable for those who can't afford housing in the South to look for somewhere in the North; and if you object that the jobs are all in the South, and that we would simply be worsening the dreadful transport problem with which we began, then I have a partial solution. If it is true that we have people stuck in traffic because they can't afford to move, and if the Government really wants to bring down the cost of housing, then there is another option.
If Gordon Brown wasn't charging such extortionate sums for each property transaction, houses would be cheaper and people would find it easier to live near their work. It's green, it's clean, and it might even be fiscally neutral, since the number of transactions would go up.
Come on, Gordon. Why not cut stamp duty, making housing cheaper in the South-east, and easing our motorway madness?