We can’t destroy nature and enhance it too!

In our last update (15th June) we told you about the release of a new ‘blueprint’ for nature protection and recovery within the so-called Oxford to Cambridge ‘growth arc’. The blueprint is a four-page document called ‘Nature’s Arc: be part of it’, endorsed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust, the RSPB and the Beds, Cambs, and Northants Wildlife Trust, with their logos displayed on the foot of the title page.

If you haven’t read it, ‘Nature’s Arc’, recommends setting up long-term management plans for green infrastructure within the so-call ‘growth arc’, making suitably qualified and mandated organisations responsible for these, and securing funding for that management. We are wondering who they have in mind.

On the last page, the document, explains who can ‘be part of it’. It specifies politicians, developers, planners and business owners. The invite does not extend to anyone else.

‘Nature’s Arc’ makes no statement of opposition to massive destruction required to stimulate economic growth in the area. This is dispiriting enough. But what caused astonishment and dismay amongst community campaign groups and individuals were the press releases that went along with the document’s launch. These excitedly stated that building a vast conurbation of up to a million houses represented a ‘perfect opportunity’ to protect and restore nature within the Arc area.

Following a public outcry, BBOWT hurriedly put out an amended press release, with the RSPB doing the same a few days later. On the 24th June, George Monbiot published a highly critical piece on ‘Nature’s Arc’ in The Guardian (which quoted BEAG). This prompted all the NGOs to stress that they opposed the Arc as currently proposed. However, at the time of writing, the Woodland Trust’s press release still states that building up to a million houses in the Arc presents a ‘perfect opportunity’.

Presenting “this massive exercise in concrete pouring” (Monbiot) as an opportunity to show how development can restore, rather than destroy nature, is just the kind of language developers and their friends in central and local government want to hear. ‘Nature’s Arc’, as Monbiot points out, makes “no mention of traffic, no mention of the Arc’s contribution to air pollution, climate breakdown, resource consumption or water use.” Meanwhile, he says, the organisations “uncritically deploy one of the most controversial concepts in development planning: ‘net gain’.” It is worth reading his article in full.

While all the NGOs involved in the initiative have stressed their opposition to massive development within the Arc in its current form, damage has been done. The idea that these organisations see building up to a million houses as a ‘perfect opportunity’ has been seized upon. See for example the local BBC.

The effect of the NGO’s actions is to drive a wedge between themselves and community campaigns against the Arc. They have also alienated some of their members. Since the launch of the ‘Nature’s Arc’ principles, BEAG has received several messages from people telling us that they are cancelling their membership of BBOWT, the RSPB and the Woodland Trust. This is deeply saddening, but not surprising – because it is blindingly obvious to us that the destruction on the scale proposed is not a ‘perfect opportunity’ to do anything other than make lots of money. Whether ‘Nature’s Arc’ was simply an error of judgement on the part of these organisations, or an indication of how they wish to be seen to be ‘part of it’ by developers, planners, politicians and business owners, the effect is the same. They are helping this awful, needless, scheme along.

BEAG is hopeful that the green NGOs will abandon ‘Nature’s Arc’ and help us confront the tired old assumptions – and greed – that lie behind the desire to stimulate economic growth via a new and vast conurbation. It’s not too late.

We can protect, restore and enhance nature without monstrous development projects. Indeed, we must.