The HS2 high-speed rail link is polarising opinion – here Farmers Weekly columnist Ian Pigott, in a piece due to published in the 20 January issue, argues how it highlighs the dangers of NIMBYism


The thorny issue of planning and NIMBYism is once again on the rural agenda, with the recent approval of a new high speed rail link.

The go-ahead for HS2, a £33 billion rail route between London, Birmingham and Manchester has caused much consternation. But does anyone care about planning so long as it doesn’t affect them personally?

Understandably, farmers and home owners whose properties will be compromised by the development are up in arms. And environmentalists are fearful of the damage that may be caused to the Chilterns and beyond. But other than those directly impacted and forgetting the £1500 that it will cost every taxpayer, does the degradation of the countryside matter?

Although I found the granting of permission curious at a time of a fiscal Armageddon, I wonder if HS2 teaches us a lesson for future planning policy.

Instead of clinging on to the greenbelt like a toddler to a security blanket, should we be greening up inner city ‘brownfield’ sites and be more receptive to development within rural areas?

A policy that blights the outskirts of so many towns by transforming brownfield sites into hideous shopping malls must be flawed. Other than their horrific appearance, they suck the life blood out of the high street.

The UK would be a markedly more inviting country if our malls – most of which are soulless, chavvy, built-by-number structures, housing the same list of shops like Toys ‘R’ Us and Carpet Right – were flattened and reseeded with grass.

HS2 is to the Chilterns what E.ON’s proposed wind turbine farm is to the occupants of Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. It will impact the landscape and the immediate surrounding communities, but is this a concern?

The greatest threat to our country over the next 30 years isn’t just a tightening of food supply. It is a lack of energy, the challenge of distributing water from the north and west to the east and constricted transport liquidity (ie congestion).

Whilst scientific algorithms show that demand for these resources will outstrip existing supply, we hide behind planning policy rather than address the issue. We get hung up over the habitat that will be lost – rather than consider the habitats under threat if the shortcomings in our future supplies of food, energy and water are not met.

The planned dairy at Nocton, the large pig farm at Foston and numerous on-farm renewable energy schemes have fallen down because of planning and Nimbyism, not because of a flawed business model or compromised animal husbandry. It’s a scenario that will only be compounded when subjected to the Localism bill.

Many regard the Victorians as the industrialists that made Britain ‘Great’. They built the railways and wool and grain mills. But their pioneering would never have been granted permission if it were subjected to 21st century Nimbys.

Many of us are inconsistent and irrational towards planning policy. If money were no object, I would welcome wind and solar schemes on my farm, but no doubt inhabitants of nearby Harpenden would be up in arms. Conversely, I wouldn’t be overjoyed if a large wind turbine were erected in a neighbour’s field. Yes, I too am a nimby. But we must learn to change.

If farmers are to have a pivotal role in meeting the UK demands for food, energy and water we need to start drumming Nimbyism out of our culture.

HS2, Nocton and local renewable energy schemes may be the making of this country, not the ruin of it.

Ian Pigott farms 700ha in Hertfordshire. The farm is a LEAF demonstration unit, with 130ha of organic arable. Ian is also the founder of Open Farm Sunday.


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