Creeping Development Not Unique to Our Area

I was interested to read this week in the British newspaper The Guardian, an article titled "The Creeping Spread of Built-Up in Britain." It indicates that "thousands of British wildlife habitats, including refuges for some of the country's rarest species and sites..." recognized the world over for their significance to the eco- system/nature, are threatened by development." For those of us fortunate enough to have traveled to Britain and to have spent time in the countryside, I had always admired the British for their land use planning, based partly on history and partly on modern land use principles, that I believed successfully preserved rural Britain. Until now it seems.

I first visited England in 1972 and drove 2,400 miles in 3 weeks, much to the astonishment of the car rental agency. As I drove from the South Coast of England all the up way to Ullapool in Western Scotland (and back again), I loved how the rural landscape was dotted by small, compact villages, with great tracts of green and sometimes remote spaces in between. I also loved the seaside communities, where beaches and waterfront were completely open to the public and one could walk as far as the eye could see. It was true, Britain was the quaint, bucolic and magic country that I had imagined, a place steeped in ancient history that somehow had managed to preserve its landmarks, heritage sites and unique landscapes through centuries of growth and development.

Now it appears that "land-grabs, from small gardens to major housing estates, ports and roads, is the Guardian launches a project called Piece by Piece, exposing the creeping [development] threat to Britain's natural world."

Sound familiar? It should because, as you many of you are aware, it appears to be the same reality that I believe threatens places such as Central and North Saanich, other rural and natural areas in the CRD and Southern Vancouver Island generally. Johnathon Porritt, one of the UK's most prominent environmental experts, observes that in Britain "The [government] is intent on setting aside some of the restrictions and constraints in the current planning process in a way that will promote local decision-making at the expense of environmental safeguards."

Again, sound all too familiar? It's apparent to me that over the past 10 years, for example, with ongoing devolution of authority by the BC government to local governments, land use planning and decision-making seem to be more fractured and less focused on protection and conservation. There appear to be so many competing interests, influences and downright lobbying in some cases, that government bodies and land use policies designed to protect habitat seem more vulnerable to this constant pressure. And then there is the money. We know that there are huge profits to be made through land development.

In Britain, the figures related to threats posed by development are collected by the Wildlife Trusts Federation, which provided "the most comprehensive review...[and] last year asked for 4,900 projects to be changed or stopped. The Trusts reported that "these were the most damaging schemes [selected] after reviewing 83,000 planning applications." Threats to birds, wildlife and woodlands in Britain represent approximately 2,500 different development projects being fought by a number of conservation organizations throughout the country. It is also reported by Britain's Garden Organic that "one in seven homes in Britain were being built on 'residential' land - mostly gardens...these small patches of land, which sustain wildlife in cities and provide vital corridors for species to reach the countryside, calculates that between 2006 and 2016, a quarter of a million gardens will be concreted and bricked over."

The article concludes that "Natural England, the government countryside agency, this year reported that more than two species a year in England are becoming extinct, and hundreds more are at risk of disappearing. The agency lists development as the second biggest cause of loss, after vast monoculture farms and the widespread use of chemicals." In a country where history is centuries' old and the preservation of tradition is paramount, it is ironic that the one thing Britain seems unable to preserve now is its natural habitats, rural lands and wildlife.

It is my hope, after reading this article, that British Columbians, especially communities at the local level, will learn from land use planning mistakes and work together with agencies, organizations and other governments/jurisdictions to stem the losses to our natural world as those now reported to be occurring in Britain.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit the Manchester Guardian website on this blog.