Douglas Murray’s housebuilding hyperbolePosted on December 12, 2012
It’s a commonly known fact that human DNA is 97% identical to orangutan DNA. It sticks in the mind because of the remarkable implication – that if you were to change just 3% of the basic code of you or me, we would be hairy tree-climbers, coveting little more than the next lump of fruit, rather than the remarkable, shoe-wearing, mostly literate creatures we are instead.
Of course, not everything works like DNA. Most things, in fact, can be subjected to proportionately small changes without ditching their metaphorical iPads and abandoning their commutes in favour of flinging faeces and clambering around the jungle canopy.
This is a subtlety that seems to have escaped the normally wise Douglas Murray over at the Spectator. Firing a broadside at Conservative Ministers who propose new development in the countryside, Douglas asks “Why are Conservative MPs so intent on wrecking our countryside?”
I have sympathy with some parts of his case. Greg Barker’s argument for wind farms – that they are sufficiently beautiful to become a tourist attraction – deserves scorn. As it happens, I’ve always thought that elegance of wind turbines is one of the few things the costly, ineffective installations have going for them, but it’s totally insufficient to justify spending a fortune scattering thousands of them nationwide to little environmental effect.
My problem comes with the Murray critique of Nick Boles’ proposals to build more houses on green field sites (which, please note, are different to green belt sites). For Douglas, Boles was “extolling the virtues of concreting over what green space we still have in order to tackle an alleged housing shortage”.
In reality, the Minister proposed expanding the area built on in Britain from 9% of our land area to 12% – an increase of 3%.
Does that extra 3% mean “concreting over what green space we still have”? Of course not. It doesn’t even mean concreting over that whole 3%, given the need for gardens to go with the houses. Even if it did mean Nick Boles taking his cement mixer on a road trip and personally turning 3% of the country from rolling pastures into a grey parking lot, would doing so truly “wreck the countryside”?
This is not liking changing Britain’s DNA. For a 3% change to make such a fundamental difference, Britain would have to be a human being – and a Britain where we would have sufficient houses to live in would be an orangutan. Which, fairly obviously, it isn’t.