England's countryside 'set to vanish in decades'

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The Independent Online

The English countryside is set to vanish by the end of the century under a mass of brick and tarmac, campaigners warn.

The ever-growing need for more homes, more airport runaways, more motorways and more power stations, will see bulldozers tear up the green belt as space becomes scarcer, it is claimed.

Fifty per cent of the land in England already suffers from noise disturbance, ruined views and, at night, light pollution, maps published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) show.

The South-east is all but disappearing under development, with 70 per cent of the region affected and the remaining 30 per cent set to be blighted in just 45 years under current rates of growth, the CPRE said.

The region has lost 840 square miles of undisturbed land since the 1990s – an area larger than the county of West Sussex, said the CPRE's chief executive, Shaun Spiers. "Countryside which is undisturbed by noise and development is vital for our quality of life and well-being," he said. "These maps show what the future may hold if we don't sufficiently value our wonderful rural landscapes.

"As the shadow of intrusion stretches further and wider, the peace and quiet we need is harder to find."

Since the early 1960s, the amount of land across England which is disturbed by noise and visual intrusion has almost doubled, up from 26 per cent to 50 per cent, the maps show.

More than 12,350 square miles have been spoilt in the past four decades and the rest could be affected within 80 years at current rates, according to the CPRE.

Developments on greenfield sites cause noise and, at night, artificial light in the surrounding countryside, while new roads slice up the landscape and disturb wildlife. And planes overhead make noise that ruins the enjoyment of English landscapes, the campaigners said.

Each year since the early 1990s, another 320 square miles has become overshadowed by urban development, the CPRE said.

While the South-east is the most badly hit, the East Midlands also has more than half its land disturbed by buildings and infrastructure, while the East of England, the North-west and the West Midlands are now all close to 50 per cent.

Even the traditionally rural South-west has more than 40 per cent of its land affected.

The Government should act on the findings of this research, Mr Spiers said. "It must strengthen policy to protect the remaining areas of undisturbed land and protect it for future generations."

The lobby group is concerned that government proposals in the Planning White Paper will take away people's rights to protest against major infrastructure projects.

The CPRE wants more ambitious targets for recycling brownfield sites, promotion of public transport instead of private motoring and a halting of current airport expansion.

A number of proposed developments on the drawing board would see a further blighting of the countryside, campaigners say. The owners of Heathrow are keen to build a third runway, which would probably require the construction of a sixth terminal by 2020, increasing total capacity to 115 million passengers per year compared with the current figure of 67 million. The project could involve the demolition of about 700 homes in two villages.