Filth and noise are making our cities intolerable

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The Independent Online

Yesterday morning a poll on Radio 4's Today programme appeared to demonstrate that people feel the Government is out of touch on rural issues. Of 1,000 people questioned, almost 40 per cent thought that people who lived in the countryside had fared better under the Conservatives.

This autumn the Government's plans for the countryside will be revealed when they publish their long-awaited rural White Paper. As the owner of one of those hated second homes, I can see where a lot of the resentment is coming from. And in a week when Ken Livingstone has been out and about every day (albeit in the same beige suit) and acres of media coverage has been devoted to that new wonder of the Western world, Tate Modern, it's easy to forget there is life outside Tracey Emin's bedroom or the first sitting of the new Greater London Assembly. When I am in Yorkshire, it seems as if most of the news happens in the South. So my sympathies are with beleaguered farmers, young people who cannot find affordable housing in villages, and the rural old who are denied decent public transport.

But, having listened to the radio yesterday, I walked down to my corner shop to buy the newspapers. Two men were busy urinating in the street, and when I complained, one retorted "Bog off, you sad old cow, why don't you go and live somewhere else?"

Can I make a plea to fresh, shiny, new Mayor Ken and to Michael Meacher for local government to start considering the plight of people who live in towns? Why does the word "environment" all too often mean "rural"? A report in New Scientist last week confirmed that the noise levels in many pubs and restaurants are intolerable. At least you have a choice about whether to enter these places. Living in central London, I've noticed that noise has become a 24-hour-a-day pollutant.

Councils owe it to residents to impose quiet zones, where lorries are banned at night. On Saturday morning builders merrily hammer and drill away at 7.15am, as they do most days if they can get away with it. They even work on Sundays, relying on the absence of environmental health officers. To police the record wave of building going on in London at present, it's clear we need five times as many environmental health officers and draconian laws with larger fines for noise and pollution.

And if our cities are to be 24-hour entertainment centres, then we need far more public conveniences (there are none at all where I live) and adequate litter collection. The area around Farringdon station is like a scene from Apocalypse Now, with clubbers eating and drinking and gaily chucking all the resultant detritus wherever they please. A couple of piles of vomit grace the street corner, and heaving bags of litter piled high with cans and bottles are sited at regular intervals. I realise that I may sound like Victor Meldrew, but to be honest I don't care. City dwellers have a right to the same level of cleanliness and sanitation as those who live in villages.

Last week I visited Tate Modern and got a sneak preview of the new Gilbert Collection at Somerset House. The building is being opened up to the public and its beautiful courtyard and river terraces will be available for everyone to enjoy.

I'm very proud that London can now truly compete with Paris as a city with grand public buildings to complement its surge in artistic confidence. I doubt if the area immediately around Farringdon, however, is one that this Government will be trumpeting as a motif of the new Britain.