Yesterday, in Greenwich, south- east London, the Civic Trust launched a campaign to make towns and cities more habitable. Martin Bradshaw, the trust's director, contrasted the decades of energy put into the conservation of Britain's countryside with the 'dangerous neglect' of the cities, where 90 per cent of the population lives.
The perception of urban living as unsafe, noisy and dirty was also damaging Britain's countryside, he said. The flight from the cities was congesting once pretty country towns and creating sprawling estates of boring housing on their outskirts.
The state of public transport, the decline of the high street, the waste of derelict land and the shabby design of buildings and shopfronts were the main concerns of the trust's 'campaign for liveable places'.
These problems are already the subject of dozens of campaigns, conferences and manifestos. But the Civic Trust fears they are getting worse and must be dealt with as a whole. 'We can no longer pretend that social disintegration is not taking place,' Mr Bradshaw said.
The trust accepts that government rarely steps in with large sums of money to solve the problems. It wants local business people, residents and councils to come together to stop the rot and attract investment for improvements.
The Civic Trust has drawn up a plan for Greenwich town centre, unveiled yesterday, in consultation with the borough council, the local civic society and traders.
The centre has 2 million visitors a year who come to see the wealth of museums and prized architecture, the Cutty Sark, craft markets and the royal park. But it is blighted by heavy traffic, with one of London's major routes passing through, making its core effectively a large roundabout.
The buildings are damaged by pollution and noise, their commercial value reduced and the quality of the environment suffers.
Solving the traffic problem needs the Government to provide another route or by-pass. It may not happen for decades. But the trust's plan proposes smaller, cheaper changes which could begin to improve the centre.
Among them are a lorry ban, stone pavements to replace concrete surfaces and a grant scheme to improve the many ugly, garish shopfronts.