Mr. Town meets Mr. Country
- Mr. Town meets Mr. Country
Richard Rogers & John Jackson
From BSE to foot & mouth, from hunting to the Countryside Alliance, from
Maff to Defra - out of crisis the countryside has moved to the top of the
political agenda. But where is the Urban Alliance? Are the cities losing
their way? And how can the fractured relationship of the last decade be
healed in the next? (v. long)
The rural-urban divide defines a vital part of society everywhere. Here,
two representatives of the British experience meet for the first time and
try to establish their common ground. They share a despair at government
policy and the lack of an overall approach, which has taken an especially
damaging form in England in the course of the twentieth century. They both
feel that the government is all too unlikely to alter this.
Richard Rogers, a renowned international architect and Labour peer, headed
the Labour governments Urban Task Force. John Jackson is a leading
businessman who chairs the Countryside Alliance. Roger Scruton and Ken
Worpole are the editors of the City and Country topic of openDemocracy
Whether in the form of poetry, myth, thinking, policy or planning law the
editors of openDemocracy seek a unified, environmentally realistic and
humane approach to the urban-rural divide, which so profoundly touches the
nature of the human species around the world. You are welcome to contribute
your experience and perspectives and add your questions to the discussion.
openDemocracy The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act of the post-war
Labour government separated cities and countryside from the point of view
of planning. Now this Labour government has published separate white papers
on urban and rural policy, and been re-elected. What are your views of this
legacy and the prospect it holds out?
Richard Rogers Overall, we are facing one crisis. Were seeing the
countryside eroded and the cities fragmenting. These two processes are
sides of a single process: as the cities fragment, people move out, erode
the countryside, and hollow out urban areas even more. If we dont improve
the quality of our cities where the vast majority of people live, then we
will all end up having to live in a suburban sprawl.
People move out primarily from the towns and cities that work least well.
Fragmentation follows the need to escape. East Manchester had nearly
100,000 people living there just after the war. It now has only 15-20,000
people. Four out of every five houses are boarded up or destroyed. There is
no civic society left. Anyone still there who can move out, will do so.
Having two separate white papers instead of one was forced on John Prescott
at the Department of the Environment. I know that originally he wanted to
have a single one for both countryside and city. That is what I argued for.
But the situation, the legacy if you will, still encourages the attitude
that people must defend one or the other: John Jackson the countryside;
myself cities. This polarisation does not address the situation.
At the same time, internationally, there is a tremendous amount of
agreement about the overall principles of sustainable development. Such as
the need to use brownfield land as a primary form of any part of
development, the need to build mixed-use into the city, making it more
compact, better connected, more sustainable in terms of ecology, well
managed and governed.
But the forces which drive people from the cities have not abated. These
are not just poverty or a poor physical environment, but also the way that
we subsidise roads and cars. We dont cost in the pollution, or the 3,600
killed and over 300,000 injured every year on the roads in the UK, and what
they cost the health services. We encourage people to look after
themselves, rather than care for civil society and have civic pride.
John Jackson Broadly, I agree. When I looked at the two white papers, the
first thing I noticed was that the one on towns says the governments aim
is to deliver an Urban Renaissance, while the one on the countryside says
its aim is A Fair Deal for Rural England. (Laughter) Why on earth cant
we have a Rural Renaissance? More seriously, both documents talk about the
necessity for power to be devolved back to those communities. What they
dont talk about is how the central power can organise itself to have any
meaningful relationship with communities.
My target is central government. I personally believe that were trying to
run a 21st century Britain with a system which just isnt working starting
with the two party set-up, which will survive last weeks election,
whatever people say, until there is proportional representation. We can
have good quality policy frameworks until the moon turns blue nothing
lasting will actually happen until we can get a sufficient degree of power
into local communities, whether theyre in the cities or the countryside.
People must be able to participate in the creation of policy as well its
What distinguishes the countryside from towns and cities is that the
countryside is predominantly based on communities with strong feelings
about their identities. They have their characteristics which are driven
largely by local circumstances: usually the way in which land is used
(farming, forestry etc), form of agriculture which the geography or
topography has imposed. Getting a sense of community, where people relate
to a particular bit of urban geography without a shared local economy or
other local interest, is very difficult.
Ive lived as much in cities as I have in the countryside. If they are
rooted in ethnic or religious affiliations, communities in cities can
flourish. Otherwise, it is a lot easier to lie dead and unnoticed for three
months in your flat in the city, than it ever would be in any rural
community. As wealth increases, I think youre going to find the continual
pressure of people moving that Richard Rogers describes. Not necessarily
consciously moving towards a community, but certainly moving away from a
lack of one. The process is driven by wealth as well as poverty.
Social and physical exclusion
RR I agree, we are saying similar things. In terms of the anatomy of the
city, the city is a series of villages and towns put together. The
neighbourhood community is the beginning, the doorstep if you like. You
need to have a sense that the town is a place where people come to meet
each other friends or strangers. This is a principle for any form of urban
settlement. The variations are in scale and density, transportation systems
In cities or villages that work well, neighbourhoods are strong. The reason
that people want to live in, say, Londons Notting Hill Gate is that youve
got a genuinely mixed community, good parks, some good markets, housing for
the less well off, housing for the rich. Im a traditionalist in this sense
of looking for the whole. The mix of forms lets people get together. If it
does not, everything fragments.
The Labour government is extremely conscious of and is doing a lot of work
on social exclusion. But I dont think its made the jump linking the
social and physical. This lies at the root of the problem. There is still a
feeling that if we pump money into improving schools, then it will make a
neighbourhood. And I keep on saying, If you cant walk to school you
havent got a community. Whereas in 1971, eighty per cent of British
children between the ages of six and eleven would walk, or go with their
parents walking to school, its now ten per cent. Thats the end of
communities across society.
oD Today, if you live in the countryside it can be illegal to let your
children walk to school, because you are not permitted to allow a child to
go unaccompanied down a country lane.
JJ I too remain to be convinced that Labour understands social exclusion,
especially in rural areas. Following the Countryside March in 1998, I tried
to persuade the government to consider what had brought such huge numbers
to London. Eventually, I found that my letter had been passed to the Social
Exclusion Unit. Another six weeks passed, so I phoned them. They then wrote
and said that it was very interesting, and I could expect to hear more from
them I heard absolutely nothing at all.
Labours election manifesto promises a Department for Rural Affairs. If
this replaces not just the old Ministry for Agriculture, Farming and
Fisheries but more important its mentality, then perhaps we will see a
shift in the whole approach of government policy-making.
RR Im very jealous of the fact that there is a Countryside Alliance. I
feel that there should be a similar alliance of city dwellers. All the
jokes about people in green wellies actually its about people who are
linked by something. Im conscious that we dont have that kind of
expression of city identity and interests. I have no idea what the answer
is. But I think it is a critical problem.
I was brought in to head the Urban Task Force with a fanfare, but having
bought the glamour, where is the substance? On the other hand, rural
affairs now command a far longer and more articulated expression of policy
commitments in the Labour partys election manifesto. You may have been
outsiders but you have created an influential independent force. The advice
of the Urban Task Force may have been far-sighted, but short-term and
bureaucratic interests easily prevail unless there is a force outside,
influencing government. I think you have been more effective. I sometimes
feel as if the wind has been taken out of my sails.
JJ I would have swapped with you in one respect. What I really enjoyed in
the urban white paper was the annex of the recommendations from your Urban
Task Force. This was a serious attempt to say to policy makers, If you
want a policy framework, these are the sorts of things you should bear in
mind. We badly need a similar framework for the countryside. All we got
from Labour in their first term were people who wanted to be fair to it.
You inspired us to produce our own detailed framework for a rural strategy.
The spark that set the countryside ablaze
oD We cant consider the Countryside Alliance without considering the
question of hunting that precipitated it.
RR I abstained on the vote. My position is that there is no reason for it
to be in Parliament.There is only time for about thirty pieces of
legislation to go through a year. There are very many more critical
problems we should be tackling than whether some people should or shouldnt
I understand very little about fox hunting. I have a certain dislike of the
idea. Having said that, I am very conscious that were meddling in
something that other people enjoy greatly, and which means a lot to them.
Its an issue which divides my family. Coming back from Barcelona recently
we argued over bull fighting. For many in Spain, bull fighting is a great
cultural tradition, even an art, which brings people together as a community.
JJ Ive never hunted in my life and I never will. For me, the question is
whether people should be able to decide for themselves whether to hunt or
not. Its a question of liberty. Theres not the slightest doubt that the
threat to hunting was the spark that set the countryside ablaze. But what
we have to ask ourselves is: why was the countryside tinder dry?
There is a deep concern about the gradual disintegration of communities on
which the countryside is based, and deep resentment, as country people
perceive it, of having other peoples values imposed on them. Ill never
forget when the editor of a London magazine said to me over lunch, We
subsidise the countryside in our food bills, they must learn to accept our
values. This attitude is known and feared. Countryside people are, by and
large, pretty peaceful. But apprehension and resentment is enhanced by
remarks like that. The threat to hunting brought it to a head. Then,
crucially, because it was an attempt to forbid something, the idea of
resistance was simple in that it was straightforward to organise around.
This led to a massive release of energy across the countryside, energy
which can now be put to constructive use. I fear it will not be, unless we
have both an adequate policy framework and forms of central government to
which different communities in the countryside can relate.
A force for good?
RR Having expressed my jealousy of the unity and scale of the movement, I
am also worried about the Countryside Alliance because it seems to do
exactly what we started by saying we dont want. It says that there are two
separate coins. Theres The Countryside, and theres The City.
Communities which is what Im interested in should be working together.
There is a danger in using the very general dissatisfaction, which affects
the city as much as the countryside, in a one-sided way which would not be
a power for good.
When the Urban Task Force a group reflecting a wide spectrum of
interests was working on urban renaissance for the white paper, we
included, for example, Tony Burton from the Campaign for the Preservation
of Rural England. We all agreed there was no difference between urbanites
like myself and those like him who work on the countryside. Id like to see
a guerrilla force from the city and countryside work together to improve
our quality of physical and social life.
JJ In a way, Im glad that Richard is worried. It means the Alliance is
noticed. But I dont know anybody in the Alliance who wants the countryside
viewed in isolation from the urban populations. What they deeply resent and
suspect is that it is the urban population who are hostile to them.
The fuel protest
RR What is the relationship between the Alliance, then, and last years
fuel crisis and the petrol strikes? Is there a direct link?
JJ Not as much as some commentators believe. It would be very unfortunate
if the Alliance gives rise to the notion that the countryside has to
organise itself to protect itself against the power of the city.
RR Getting lots of people together who have a common cause is fine, but
what is the cause? This is why I brought up the question of the fuel
protest. In environmental terms we should all pay more for fuel, not less.
Instead protesters are saying, Why should I pay more than the guys across
JJ The Countryside Alliance cannot survive on the basis of protest. When
we produced our own rural white paper, we could not get any government
department to read it. We ran into the problem of being labelled the
hunting lobby. The more the resistance from central government became
apparent, the more people became determined that they should be heard.
Now, the rural manifesto we published for the election should be hugely
welcomed by urban dwellers: it says that the countryside has to be seen as
something which belongs to the whole nation. People in it have to live,
work and have the possibility to do well. But people in the towns and the
cities are hugely welcome in the countryside and play a major role in
helping the countryside to be economically viable.
RR What would be its key principles?
JJ The countryside should be managed in such a way that there is harmony
between all the conflicting interests that make demands upon the
countryside: a thriving and happy community of people, sustainable food and
timber production, nature conservation, good landscaping, public amenities
and recreation and sport. These principles embrace everybody.
A common fight in a new era
RR It is not going to be quite so easy. Yes, we need to identify shared
community, through empowerment and participation. But the new era is also
one in which societies are no longer controlled by the nation. Corporations
have the ability to run nations. I think they are the enemy in terms of
democracy and the individual. How are we going to control them? This is the
really fundamental question.
Were now a global society, and many of the corporations of the world earn
more than most nations, have tremendous power and though they may not have
the national vote, they have the vote through their dollars. The problem
were facing is how to achieve balance between government, people, and
large scale business between democratic, empowered communities and
corporations in whose interests these values play a very small part.
JJ I entirely agree that the economic and social problem of the power of
the big corporations has been coming up for years. I think one has to be
careful not to generalise there are some companies who understand
extremely well the importance of communities and really do something about
it. Other corporations are entirely cynical.
I was very struck by Colin Crouchs Fabian pamphlet on post-democracy,
which Ive just read. Ive brought it along because I thought this issue
would come up. He says that general elections are now a tightly controlled
spectacle managed by rival teams of professionals, experts in the
techniques of persuasion and considering a small range of issues collected
by those teams. The mass of citizens play a passive, quiescent, even
apathetic part the electoral game is really fixed in private by
interaction between elected government and elites which overwhelmingly
represent business interest.
There is a huge amount of truth in this. It explains part of the enduring
anger behind the Alliance. We yelled out in protest when the banks
proceeded to close down their rural branches without local consultation, an
action which had a profound social impact and caused huge resentment. In my
area, people were saying we ought to be able to stop the banks from doing
oD Its not just banks, its agribusiness. One of the issues that produces
cynicism about the Countryside Alliance in city-dwellers is the prairie
farms and immense fields where country people have pulled out the
hedgerows, drenched the land in chemicals, industrialised the landscape and
been massively subsidised. If the Countryside Alliance were to oppose
corporate food production it might get a lot more allies in towns.
JJ Youre going down the George Monbiot line. What you say is true, and
the Countryside Alliance has already made itself quite unpopular with some
of the agribusiness interests. Our rural white paper makes a clear
distinction between commercialised agriculture and farming.
But why did it happen? At the end of the day, human beings are going to do
those things which pay them best, give them least risk and most reward. In
the areas where a huge amount of this hedge-grabbing went on, they are now
uncomfortable about it. But they were given every incentive to do it. This
is why the policy framework is decisive. If you provide incentives to
people to engage in the wrong kind of farming, they will. That is what has
happened, and its closely associated with the Common Agricultural Policy,
which has been disastrous.
oD The degree of agreement between you is striking but also puzzling. You
both insist on the need for a coherent overall approach. When it won its
first election, Labour famously declared its commitment to joined-up
government. Yet each of you is saying that there is no joined-up policy.
The puzzle is this: all the key interests and policy advisors say there
should be a unified policy approach no one opposes this. So where is it?
JJ The concept of joined-up government doesnt have a chance because of
the way in which were organised. We have these powerful departments of
state which are inhabited by highly intelligent and powerful civil servants
whose main job in life is to look after the interests of their political
head, who in reality is trying to perform as an ambitious individual rather
than as a member of a joined-up government.
RR I agree. Take any part of the city. All government bodies which have
anything to do with domestic life, have a role in improving the quality of
life. This is very difficult for the government to accept. For example, if
the schools and health services dont work, then the community doesnt
work, whatever the Department of the Environment may be doing. In Britain,
all the activities by ministers and civil servants add up to much less than
the totality. Indeed, they could do less and it would add up to more, if it
was done well. I mean with people, instead of treating the population as a
natives as the introduction to your openDemocracy debate neatly puts it.
Here in Britain, the whole usually becomes a massive subtraction from the
parts. If you go to Barcelona, Copenhagen or Rotterdam youll see how a
creative understanding of the way things come together makes the real
We need a cabinet minister in charge of both cities and countryside. You
need someone to see that all policies made by each ministry are not
counter-effective to the policies of the sustainable society that were
talking about. Yes, the Urban Task Force got the recommendations at the end
of the white paper. There is also a tick by each one. But there is a great
gap between the tick and reality.
This can clearly be seen in the election campaign just concluded. It is
evident that the only meaningful way to connect the city and countryside
from the perspective of government is to have a well thought-out
environmental policy. At the same time, none of the major political parties
addressed this need, neither in their manifestos nor in the campaign
itself. The environment did not exist as an election issue. Yet the
environment surely lies at the root of almost every problem we are facing
as a society both long-term, like transport and global warming, and
short-term, like foot-and-mouth. These interlocking problems are at root
environmental, and they bridge the urban and rural spheres at every point.
My conclusion is that we really must all of us consider changing the way
we live in significant ways: how and where we settle, how (and how often)
we travel, how we balance work and leisure, how we produce and consume our
food. These are environmental questions which should be at the top of the
political agenda in the years to come.
On the face of it, the countryside has won. At least in the sense that
there is unlikely to be an urban renaissance of the kind we need, because
the odds are against the overall approach that will make it possible.
Reclaiming the streets
oD You argue persuasively for higher density cities, but you say its not
higher density that makes a community, theres got to be other things too.
Obviously theres a limit to what designers and builders can do. Theres a
spiritual and social side to this that we all know about. What do you think
about streets how important they are, and what has happened to them? Dont
you agree that a lot of what went on after the war was a completely
fallacious concept of planning without the street as its fundamental social
RR I wish I could disagree with you. Yes, the British government,
architects and engineers made a tremendous mistake after the war. The
streets ceased to be streets for people. Again, were lagging well behind
our European neighbours.
The good news is that streets are beginning to be taken back and people are
beginning to push out the car. Copenhagen started to give the streets back
to people about twenty years ago. Now only one third of people there move
by car, one third by bicycle and one third by public transport. In London,
only two per cent of people move by bicycle. The main reason being that
its dangerous. In Copenhagen, there are many more cafés, although its
much colder than London. They made detailed studies and put cafes where
they catch the sun. They study the anatomy of their streets and spaces. It
is about time that we too took back the streets and made public transport
work for people.
oD The Countryside Alliance uses the language of citizenship. The fuel
protest even drew its inspiration from France. We have had a tradition of
liberty in Britain but not of citizenship in the sense believing that
government belongs to We the people. However, there was a civic,
municipal culture. This too is now more or less completely hollowed out.
JJ I think thats right.
RR Its true. Unlike most people, the British actually like to be
governed. They will change ruling parties as easily as they change their
footwear. There are not the revolutions you see on the continent. Instead,
the English are very accepting. They rarely question even their doctors or
their professionals. They should be more questioning.
I think cities are becoming much more important and powerful. I foresee
competitions between cities, such as Paris, Frankfurt and London. Were
going back to the city-state in many ways and I welcome it because its
easier to associate at this scale. Its difficult to see how either
Britishness or Englishness will be a driver. I am one of those who see us
going towards a Federation of Europe with city-based identities.
oD If we are going to connect city, town and country we need some
governing ideas. Surely the best model we should use is that of the
network. Instead, increasingly planners even urban planners talk of
villages and communities, as you have been doing. Geert Maks Jorwerd:
The Death of the Village in late 20th Century Europe, suggests that the
village is now a redundant concept. Yet it remains dominant in British
thinking about notions of community.
RR The reason there has been a strong movement towards the use of the word
village, even if youre living in the city, is because there is a lack of
community and the word village strengthens that concept. Because cities
are very complex and dynamic, we tend to retreat into cosy language.
At what point does the garden become the countryside? At what point does
the countryside become town? If I have a problem its with suburban
sprawl which is neither one thing or another because it has no community.
Community applies to having not only people who know each other, but also
the ease of involvement of strangers for the exchanging of ideas.
Communities are for mixed use, for work and leisure, they contain the
corner shops or school, and these are the elements we need.
JJ In large cities, it is hugely difficult to create a sense of community
in any meaningful way. In the countryside now, too, a large number of
villages have lost all their shops, post office, school and even bus
service. In response, were seeing the emergence of hubs little towns
surrounded by villages. If people can relate to a place which they all know
and use, that is something which helps to glue communities together.
Perhaps this is the start of a network model.
I can see why people are worried about the Alliance and what we say about
the countryside. We do not want it to be perceived as a battlefield. But
every time a pollster appears on television and says that you must remember
that most of the votes are in the towns, countryside people look at the
programme and say. By God, we had better look after ourselves. This then
reinforces a flight from political parties. They are supposed to have an
overall view. People increasingly feel they dont.
I worry that the Countryside Alliance is too successful. Its not healthy
that a campaigning organisation should be growing so fast when the
membership of political parties is in decline, and when our form of
parliamentary democracy is in trouble. Two days before polling day I
attended a very large meeting of rural people who had come together to
discuss what concerned them and how to influence policy after the election.
The suggestion that they should talk to their MPs would have been greeted
by a gale of laughter. We should all worry about that.
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