I spent my formative years in regeneration in London Docklands and found myself, many jobs later, when I reached Paddington, to be truly shocked at the shallow nature of the canal system (six feet of water or thereabouts in Paddington Basin) in comparison to docks that could take ocean going liners (30 or 40 feet at least). Waterways historians have since explained to me the reasons behind this; the pressure to get sufficient water into the canal systems was always a limiting factor, particularly in the West Midlands where it was a complete nightmare.
Water issues have not gone away , although they have – of course – been overshadowed recently by the recession. A “Foresight” report for BIS warns that parts of the UK could face water shortages, rapidly rising house prices and threats to wildlife and landscapes without major changes to how land is managed. Foresight’s chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington, said sticking with “business as usual” management of land was not an option in the face of pressures such as climate change and population increases over the next 50 years. Land is also likely to come under pressure from an increasingly wealthy population to provide more living space and recreation, and the need to produce food and green energy – from wind farms to fuels made from crops – to meet targets on renewables.
Pressure on land and the resources it provides is expected to be particularly acute in the South East, where population is expected to grow most but where water is most scarce and most of the best farmland is found. The Foresight report on the future of land use urges us to address these major challenges with a strategic and integrated approach, rather than the fragmented policies of the past.
In the coming years, changes to the climate including warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers will affect water supplies, increase the need to manage land for flood risk and could damage wildlife and habitats such as ancient woodland. At the same time, the need to meet EU targets to boost renewable energy and fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through managing soils and forests will also require innovative ways of looking after the land. Currently, contrary to popular belief, just 10% of land in England is developed – with half of that made up of gardens – while 12% of the UK is forest and woodland and three quarters is farmed.
The report found that, until now, measures to look after the land had managed to contain urban sprawl, ensure there was enough for food production, provided green spaces and preserved beautiful landscapes. This is quite an achievement. But in the future, a failure to manage land in a joined-up way could result in shortages of resources and “public goods” such as water, wildlife and urban green space.
Yet another thing to consider as we try to move regeneration forward in a responsible and sustainable way! Blimey, life just gets tougher!