‘I never knew it was like this. So much new development, so clean, and so much countryside.’ This is the common reaction of those intrepid travellers, who’ve got their visas, and had all the right vaccinations, and who make the long and arduous journey — from that foreign country, London, to East Lancashire.
I call it missionary work.
Joking apart, there’s a serious point.
In the United Kingdom, decision-takers across business and government are disproportionately concentrated in London and the Home Counties.
These are the people who, for example, make key investment decisions which directly affect the levels of prosperity and employment in our area.
Getting them here to see for themselves, and break down the still-continuing myths about old mill towns is therefore very important.
Provided there is enough work – a big “if” these days, I know – then the quality of life in East Lancashire should be as good as anywhere, not least because there is so much green. We have done better than most in this country to ensure a clearer separation of town and country.
Fly over other European countries, or the US, and you’ll see dreadful urban sprawl; fields alongside motorways disfigured by advertising hoarding; no proper boundaries.
That’s the benefit of our post-war planning system. Its disadvantage has been its complexity.
The coalition government decided last year that they were going to “simplify” the system.
No one can argue with that as a principle; but their draft plans got people in all parties very worried that the so-called “presumption in favour of sustainable development” would lead to a free-for-all.
Developers would build on the easy, green-field sites; cherished countryside, like so much all around us, would start to be covered with new buildings, whilst the “brown-field” sites in towns would stay derelict.
The Government’s final planning statement came out on Tuesday.
It’s much better than the draft, but we’ll all need to be very vigilant to ensure that our green and pleasant land stays that way, and I can still happily surprise my travelling companions from the south.