Creeping urbanisation 'could destroy rural England in 30 years'

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Creeping urbanisation and development may lead to the destruction of the traditional English countryside in a single generation, a report warns today.

The remorseless expansion of housing, industry, traffic, road-building and airport construction, combined with the steady decline in traditional farming, may mean the treasured, traditional countryside will have all but disappeared by 2035, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The report, Your Countryside, Your Choice, by Paul Kingsnorth, envisages a landscape where "town" does not end and "countryside" does not begin, and where there is no rural landscape truly distinct from town, city or suburb. Instead, there is "an out-of-town state of retail parks, meandering housing estates, ring roads, the backs of gardens, streetlights, signs and masts." That landscape, the report says, "is spattered and blotched with housing and sheds of all colours but mostly large, while what remains of open land is riddled with fairways, paddocks and shimmering polythene. The varicose network of roads pervades all, ceaselessly coursing with traffic."

In three decades, the report suggests: "By accident rather than design, much of England has become an anywhere-place, unloved and unloving, a homogenous exurbia, in which everywhere looks the same as everywhere else."

The report identifies many severe long-term threats facing rural England. It sees the biggest as the major expansion of house-building, especially between cities, and within 100 miles of London. At present, a total of 150,000 houses a year are being built in England, but this figure could double if the Government adopts the recent Barker report, which said that home-building should be stepped up to bring house prices down.

The other threats included:

* A huge expansion of road freight distribution and car-dependent development, with an associated noise and loss of tranquillity;

* Major airport expansion, both nationally and regionally, with associated infrastructure;

* A dramatic decline in farming, leading to ever-more polarised land management, either more intensely farmed or abandoned.

"All the while," says the report, "climate change threatens to undermine the long-established natural processes in the countryside, and our response to the associated extreme weather and increased shortage of water could cause more damage still."

The report also lists what it says are damaging changes already taking place. Traffic is growing faster on rural roads than in urban areas in England; a total of 21 square miles of countryside - an area the size of Southampton - is lost to development every year; the total area of "tranquil countryside" fell by 20 per cent between the 1960s and 1994 and continues to do so. But the threats to the countryside were not inevitable in their effects, the CPRE said. It urged the Government to commit to five broad policy objectives:

* It should redouble efforts to promote efficient use of land for housing, aiming for at least 75 per cent of new housing on previously developed land;

* There should be a regional policy which respects environmental capacity, rather than pushing for maximum development;

* Encouragement of local food and commodity procurement, to reduce dependence on national distribution systems, especially motorways and trunk roads;

* There should be funding for farmers to manage the countryside, both to retain the character of the landscape, and to conserve natural resources such as soil and water.

Tom Oliver, the CPRE's head of rural policy, said: "We cannot continue to consider the countryside as a limitless resource, infinitely able to recover from repeated damage. The countryside is for us all. If we want to keep it, all of us have a part to play in its survival for ourselves and for our children."