Well, one notable one, Ruth Archer! My light relief is The Archers and their current story line about the local agribusiness fat cat’s plan for a mega dairy has had me shouting at the radio in horror. Finally last night Ruth (the Geordie character) had a furious rant about it. She is right that these kinds of intensive farming are completely appalling – though her farm is not completely perfect, not being organic, but they have at least moved to a lower input system of longer grazing of their cows out in their fields. The future cannot be these massive scale intensive farms – the welfare issues for the animals are intolerable, the human health risks (with massive use of antibiotics and growth promoters etc and diseases like swine flu) and we won’t be able to squander fossil fuels as fertilisers etc with peak oil and climate change. We have to move to organic smaller scale farming with all of us consuming less meat and dairy, wasting less food, importing less out of season stuff, growing more of our own.
And of course, we need to stop the swallowing up of agricultural land for house-building and out of town business and retail parks. Which brings me on to what I have been doing for the last few weeks – campaigning against the national government’s plans for a planning free for all, and now the Newcastle and Gateshead council’s Core Strategy for the next 20 years – which includes a massive land grab of the green belt to the north and west of the cities. North Tyneside are already in the process of trying to build on every bit of land too – as someone said to me it seems as if every blade of grass there is an affront to the planners and must be concreted over.
Well, the campaign against this mad and bad plan is building up very rapidly. There were well over 170 people protesting (some estimated 250) at the Civic Centre in Newcastle on 2 November and several public meetings organised by residents over to the west with up to 200 people. Residents groups in Gateshead are appalled at the plan to demolish over 4,000 perfectly habitable (and indeed inhabited) homes in their neighbourhoods. Then on Tuesday Gosforth Civic Hall was packed, standing room only, we reckoned more than 400 people – all extremely angry and opposed to the destruction of the vital wildlife corridor the plan would wreak by proposing 600 houses to be built on the fields around the Gosforth Nature Reserve. There is a meeting of this particular campaign next Tuesday 22 November at the Gosforth Hotel at 7.30pm.
Green Party activist Dave Byrne from Gateshead, professor of social policy at Durham, spoke about the wider reasons the plan is wrong – the fact that it does nothing to address the real issues of the economic and environmental crisis, and that if it were implemented it would make things worse. We are busy working on our formal submission to the consultation on the Core Strategy and will be doing as much campaigning as we can right across Tyne and Wear – and indeed the North East, as this sort of grab for new housing development by trying to lure developers with the promise of their preferred green field sites impacts all the other councils in the region. Watch this space….
A final thought, one of the issues protesters have raised, especially at Tuesday’s meeting was that of increased flooding – some of the sites are on flood plains, some will block water flow and cause flooding downstream, some will simply reduce water being soaked up by open land by having been built on. Last Thursday’s afternoon drama was a drama-documentary was The State of Water brilliant, but unfortunately no longer available to listen again. Set on a Welsh hill farm, it explored the way that ecological management of the land could restore its capacity to retain water and prevent flooding. The drama of the family was intercut with beautiful, poetic pieces of science about what we are doing to this precious resource – terrifying, if we don’t radically mend our collective ways…