Leading Article: Stop these intruders in our green fields

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The Independent Culture
WHEN IS a green field not a green field? When it is anywhere in Middle England where money can be made. West Berkshire council has torn up its commitment to the environment after Vodafone, Newbury's biggest employer, threatened to leave unless it was given permission to build its new headquarters on a green-field site. This capitulation sets a dreadful precedent for rural England.

Vodafone is not just any company. In 10 years, the mobile phone maker has grown from nothing to being the10th most valuable company in the world. This growth - and the 3,000 jobs that have come with it - has occurred from Vodafone's base in Newbury. Now that Vodafone has acquired America's AirTouch, it has outgrown its scattered premises and the company wants to bring its employees together at one site. Newbury itself has contributed to Vodafone's prosperity. The town's location in the centre of southern England, its transport connections - road, rail and air - and the skilled local workforce have all helped Vodafone's growth. The company might have been damaged if it had moved. However, many cities and towns throughout southern England can match Newbury's conditions. And, with a mere 1.5 per cent unemployment, everyone who wants a job in Newbury has one.

It is worrying if the countryside cannot be protected even in such favourable circumstances. The equivalent of five cities the size of London have sprawled over England since the Second World War. Conserving the countryside is vital to keep our communities compact enough to encourage public transport, cut car pollution and reduce crime.

Occasionally somebody must suffer for the good of all. This Government has trumpeted its care for the environment. Its mood music needs some passion; John Prescott's department should call in a planning inquiry at once.

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