The Gerald Bostock Diaries

Latest news from the lyric writer of the original “Thick as a Brick.”

The Bostock Diaries – Part 15

Am I getting old? Paunchy, punchy and pinchy? Don’t answer.

The Old Bag has been increasingly vexing of late. Takes forever to get round Clutterbury Waitrose and leaves her trolley parked where other, older bags collide and skitter. Never seems to be able to make her mind up between the Muesli with the nuts and raisins or the fruit and fibre. Bird food, anyway – all of it. What’s wrong with a box of the old cornflakes, I want to know? Half the price and twice the crackle.

But what will be the price of a loaf of bread, a pint of milk or a decent hamburger in the decades to come? As that naive twerp Planning Minister Nick Boles demands that more greenfield sites be granted planning for new houses and the last marginal cropping land disappears beneath the concrete and tarmac, where will we turn in the desperation of times-to-come for more grazing and arable land? It may not be profitable now but in a not-too-distant future of increasing population and food shortage, the option of pressing these acres into useful food production should not be lost. It’s all supply and demand. What if new country residents will one day look out on the fields of green to find they are not grazing sheep, cattle or growing wheat, barley, oilseed rape – even at low tonnages – but sprouting an extension to a housing estate of which they are a part? Our national resources are being stretch to the limit and the clarion call to spend our way out of the recession, borrow our way out of debt and to grow the economy regardless of matching our population to our resources will end in tears. Sooner than most of us think.

We can hardly look to Europe to bale us out when the increasing extremes of temperature cause huge fluctuation in the world food market. Of course, with our soon-to-be 70 million residents, the UK can never be self-sufficient in food and energy production but we have to at least try to move in that direction rather than further away from it.

We really have become accustomed, in the last fifty years, to relatively low food prices and availability. We whinge about supermarkets’ prices and their big corporate profits but we can all get by on a bit less and learn to decrease our reliance on heavily-packaged and processed food. It requires some new thinking and the willingness to become ethical consumers. Not spending tools of a government hell-bent on re-election at all cost and the future be damned.

Brownfield, industrial and potential redevelopment sites exist a-plenty closer to urban centres and the necessary infrastructure of schools, hospitals, and retail is easier to expand upon on the edge of those towns.

Building investment is in the doldrums and “kickstarting” the economy by building so-called affordable housing out in the shires and villages may sound enticing, but the margins will be less for the investors and the need to put massive investment into “dormitory” villages to provide schooling and social services for the new residents isn’t taken into account. Developers are hit-and-run guys. Goes with the job.

There are plenty of brownfield sites with un-utilised consent for building as things currently stand, we are told. Releasing chunks of farmland to be given planning consent, then sat on, undeveloped, by housing developers staking a claim for now but waiting for a balmier financial climate will mean less land for food production when the real climate, changing as it most certainly is, forces prices up.

Housing developers are not farmers. Farmer are farmers and, while they may be struggling to make a profit at the moment, few will readily abandon the land if a basic living living can be made.  Of course, some farmers may relish the opportunity to sell off a few acres for cash in hand where planning can be granted, but I doubt that many would do so willingly. Cereal prices and the value of lamb and beef will improve. Dairy and pigs may a tough call but farmers understand flexibility. Battery chicken and concrete-reared beef and pigs are not the way of the future, many of us feel. Old Jethro Tull had some good ideas in Horse-hoeing Husbandry. Much of it all too applicable in today’s world.

Now, poor Boles may be under under instruction from higher up to carry the can for this unpopular move but I think he deserves all that I sincerely hope will be thrown at him for this crazy scheme. Yes we need housing but where it makes sense. Not where it makes nonsense. Young families need jobs. Jobs are not in the rural hamlets. They are in the towns and cities. Our country roads are not built for increased traffic. You can’t build new houses in the rural environs unless you also spend disproportionate sums on associated infrastructure.

Problem is, such grand ideas often are formulated in Government years before and, as the economic realities overtake them, no-one has the balls to admit that they are no longer viable, or the best use of limited development funds. The new HS2 high-speed rail link North to Birmingham and beyond is an example. We can’t afford it for such marginal benefit in travel time. The ticket prices will be higher than the public can afford and they will, for the most part, simply refuse to be prised from their beloved motor cars as a means to travel. It’s not about “nimbys”. It’s about priorities. Such funds as can be made available in this fragile economic recovery should be spent on improving the existing rail and road networks and not on grandiose, self-serving schemes to show off to both nation and the world. Nice idea, wrong time.

Sorry to bore the knickers off the cousins in the mighty USA but what happens here in the UK is happening everywhere. My grumbles and arguments are international.

Hey – don’t get me started – you hear? More on the issues of sustainable population and immigration in the next diary. Dangerous stuff. Dangerous times. Times for ethical consumers and ethical families. What’s next? Ethical politicians? Don’t get me started.

Bostock.

Angry as Hell.