Will UK Media Help Or Hinder NPPF Debate?

Unlike the Forest sell off campaign, we are starting to see very harsh language from both sides of the NPPF debate. However it is fair to say that traditional media are deliberately stirring the debate and are happily misconstruing statements to sell newspapers and in doing so are pushing both sides of the NPPF debate further into boxed corners.

Do we really want to see a debate played out in the printed media? or sensible discussion around the table or better still one which can be made available online via social media thus allowing the integration of that most valuable of voices the general public?

Newspapers are habitually the protagonists we remember from the school playground, journalists taunting each side with increasingly non factual remarks to ensure reaction.

For example in the Telegraph today there is a sub title which states:

‘’Ministers have been accused of attempting to rush through radical reforms to planning laws that pose the greatest threat to the countryside since the Second World War.’’

This is just simply not true. Pests, Diseases and Non Native invasive species are the biggest and ongoing threat to the British countryside, coupled and indeed complicit with climate change this is a threat that our printed and television media are on the whole happy to ignore.

The draft NPPF is assuredly a threat, but the planners and other practitioners positioned to ensure against serious damage to the countryside remain in place and whilst their jobs will be made considerably more difficult by the NPPF and more cuts are likely to happen to diminish the security they provide, this ignored protective bastion will continue to exist despite newspaper commentary to the contrary.

We may see the celebrity voice enter the debate, thus ensuring good publicity to any cause, but this is rarely useful to those on the frontline indeed it can be counter productive as was seen when the ‘intellectual for hire’ Germaine Greer decided to take pen to paper with regards the future of English Forests.

There is also the constant non recognition of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, who remain completely unaffected by the English planning proposals and whose own land planning policies are now being held up high as progressive case study around the world. They will act certainly as a way to mitigate the huge damage caused by the NPPF if its current form is realised in European statistics in relation to all land management conventions.

The phenomena created by a media in trying to ‘balance’ everything has become ludicrous, scientists of real worth have their discoveries ridiculed by pompous hacks or completely unqualified peddlers of dubious goods, live on radio or within the most so called of serious broadsheets. This is largely why both the UK & USA media industry, have managed to keep open a two sided opinion with regards ‘climate change’. It is thus maybe why the US and potentially the UK will see more and more unscientific approaches to policy making and real power to what are quite frankly ‘loony groups’ – the Tea Party being an example.

Thus will we now see such debate with regards the use of the word sustainable?

Since the moment the draft NPPF was published a huge amount of people questioned the emphasis on sustainable, as the debate heated up and a voice from the developers and home building groups became heard it was apparent that they believed sustainable meant something completely different.

With a background in forestry and land management, sustainable was taught to me and became established in my work practice to mean the non use of finite products in order to preserve resources and further Sustainable Development is the need to discover and construct infrastructure and housing which helps develop the tools and techniques for which future generations can fulfil their own needs without also having to revert to finite resources. With a combination of looking to the traditional and innovative this is possible now. And in doing so will boost the economy as well as allowing the UK to stand amongst the top countries in the world with regards such progression, as it has done throughout the design and planning stages of furthering sustainable development.

To suddenly discover that within the construction industry cement is freely advertised as ‘sustainable’ is baffling. It may be produced with 20% less emissions, it may be more durable, there may be more additives and techniques that allow it be versatile in design, cement factories may well open their doors for guided school visits – But such good actions, whilst worthy of attention do not warrant the stamp of sustainability.

Sustainable cannot be treated with abuse as lets say the free use of ‘Mach 3’. When an engineer hears this term they will assume that the product means it can achieve a speed 3 times that of the speed of sound. And unless it is hidden in the kit bag of an astronaut, it is unlikely that any disposable razor is going to achieve Mach 3. But if you now google ‘Mach 3’ you will find that the publicity surrounding a shaving product jostles in the listings against the real definition. I recently had to google search the common name of a tree cultivar, (I wont tell you which one) which shared its name with a porn actress from the USA. The latter being a much more popular entity, I had to actually change the tree species in order not to upset the client whom I was dealing with by email correspondence.

Is this why the media as a whole ignore the real definitions, the use of web searches to complete a story rarely displays the truth. Unfortunately much academic research is behind expensive pay to view barriers, and much convention detail and wording is (as it has to be) complex and time consuming to read – it is thus simply easy to cobble together a story based on non peer reviewed blogs and second rate ‘celebrity’ opinion and should it be criticised we hear the unforgiveable excuse that it is in the interests of ‘balance’.

Sustainable is now subject to such abuse and a ranging set of misinterpretations of the word sit alongside the Brundtland definition. Until we can either settle on a definition of sustainable which is suitable for all those with an interest in the NPPF, which is unlikely, or the NPPF is scrapped and rewritten using a different word but without clear defination there is no way the NPPF is usable.

If the media are to start to debate the term sustainable it will be even more regressive than the draft NPPF has the potential of being.

Another issue of concern which is looming is Ecosystem Services: Already we are seeing debate which is frankly far too late in forthcoming. The ideals of valuing natures services to humans as a tool in land management have been around since the 1960s’ and one of pioneers was the eminent British forester Rodney Helliwell. The media are already heading using headlines which clearly illustrate a misunderstanding.

Let us hope that the media do not further destroy any possible chance of a meeting of minds to progress the NPPF in being a document and subsequent policy of real worth. Greg Clark in choosing to vent real anger against critics of the NPPF as it stands has done little more than attract unwanted attention which in turn will attract further attention away from the real issues and those fighting for them.



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

2 responses to “Will UK Media Help Or Hinder NPPF Debate?

  1. Thank you – Some good points, for sure, but I have concerns about the way the debate is going for different reasons (though your comment that the mainstream press are “deliberately stirring the debate” rings true as evidenced by the sum up of newspaper headlines on Radio 4 this morning, and I see evidence of statements misconstrued to sell newspapers on a daily basis.)

    While all of that is true, there is quickly emerging a rather warped consensus on what the NPPF can/will mean for rural England (in terms of both landscape, and culture generally). My own concern lies not with who is getting pushed into a corner (you say the press is boxing in the opposing factions). My concern is more with who is crawling out of the corners as the debate hots up.

    As I expressed previously, one of the many methodologies being utilised by campaigners to rally the troops is the invoking of iconic ‘symbols of Englishness’ (the evidence of which is seen on the web sites of our anti-NPPF NGOs with their images of iconic patchwork field patterns intended to stir the heart and enrage their supporters) but some of the notions of Englishness and what constitutes the English landscape is not at all helpful and, in certain cases, highly dubious.

    I have written at length on this here (http://bit.ly/nJ9PIw) so I won’t bang on about it, but briefly my argument really centres on the fact that boundaries are getting blurred between what is merely middle class greed in the form of Shire County Tories defending their patch and the forces of radical conservatism and neo-liberalism securing their market interest. In fact, you can also perceive in the wider anti-NPPF lobby, disturbing forms of retrogardism and far-right-extremism that link overpopulation and the dire need for social housing with immigration policy as its primary driver, as claimed by the BNP.

    The press is the a lesser of the many problems we face right now (in my view anyway). What was a debate over the development of affordable social housing (where it’s most needed) is already beginning to shift in some quarters onto arguments about whether those houses would be needed if there weren’t so many migrant workers and immigration policy was not as it is. Sadly the wider anti-NPPF lobby (as was the case with the anti-forestry-sell-off lobby) is forging alliances with some pretty repugnant political groupings right now and the plight of the rural poor is yet again getting lost in a tub-thumping little-Englander race to claim who has most invested in the protection of rural England.

    Sorry to again offer the cultural tangent but having spent a few days researching the links being forged, it merits a thought, I think.

  2. Thanks for this comment and your further article – http://www.forestuprising.org/articles/be-careful-the-environment-and-friends-you-choose-opposing-t.html
    My viewpoint is somewhat limited due to speaking from a practitioner point of view as well as being abroad; but it certainly appears to be the direct fault of Greg Clark by placing himself as a pseudo statesman and ignoring several opportunities to talk to openly about real identified flaws with the NPPF that this new dynamic you talk of has appeared.
    I fully support Andrew Lainton’s call for a reasoned coalition: http://andrewlainton.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/why-we-need-a-coalition-on-the-nppf-with-a-positive-sustainable-alternative-2/ but fear that the potential money that is up for grabs by way of public donation will almost certainly lead to a lot more extremists involvement (as well as seasoned campaigning NGOs) drooling over the conflict surrounding the NPPF.
    This will leave few people left to fight the middle ground, as Save Our Woods are doing, as well as the National Trust (although their argument is being twisted considerably to suit various anti NPPF stances, who wish to use the strength of the NT as a platform).
    We need conversations and a forum, which can help moderate the voice of the moderates, which does not include Greg Clark, and thus further promote the work of the planners and practitioners who are being disenfranchised by the hour. An NPPF can work, the one on offer is lacking, and the tools & intelligence to enable it to succeed are available without much searching in the UK.
    Social media has a vital role to play here and should be used to its optimum. Let the extremists fight it out on printed material.

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