More used to putting his feelings into verse, Sir Andrew Motion has launched a personal attack on planning minister Nick Boles over proposals to build over the British countryside that have left him “somewhere between horror and enormous anger”.
Sir Andrew, former poet laureate and now president of the Council to Protect Rural England, warned that more than two million acres of virgin countryside are under threat. He spoke out after Mr Boles – who grew up in a Grade II-listed house in Devon, the son of Sir Jack Boles, then head of the National Trust – called for an increase in development of around one third.
The Conservative planning minister told Newsnight last week that: “In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”
He added: “The built environment can be more beautiful than nature, and we shouldn’t obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open – sometimes buildings are better.”
But in an interview with yesterday’s Observer, shortly after addressing the meeting of the CPRE in Bath, Sir Andrew criticised the “incredibly irresponsible” planning minister, whose father was a head of the National Trust, for his inappropriately “abrasive and irksome” attitude.
The criticism is timed to be fresh in people’s minds when George Osborne makes his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, which is likely to include more incentives for housebuilding to tackle the country’s shortage.
Sir Andrew, who succeeded writer Bill Bryson this year in charged of the CPRE, said: “On just about every level what he said was wrong. Start at the level of fact: he said 9% of our countryside is bricked over; by CPRE reckoning it is actually already more like 12%. And that doesn’t take into account the collateral effects of development. About 50% of our land is already compromised in some way or other.”
He also poured scorn on Mr Boles’ claim last week that building on open land was unavoidable as people had a moral “right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in” and said he had not understood what may be lost.
The government warns the UK is in the grip of a housing crisis with the number of households expected to expand at the rate of 230,000 a year. But Mr Motion publicly lambasted the minister, whose father was once head of the National Trust, for being out of touch and failing to understand what may be lost by bringing in the bulldozers.
He instead suggested that more could be done to develop brownfield sites. Sir Andrew said: “The underlying problem is this idea that in a difficult economic time you can just lighten the burden of planning regulation as a kind of short-term fix.”