Phil Lotan`s speech April 18

Phil Lotan’s speech April 18
One of the most despoiled areas of the South East has the capability to
become an economic and ecological powerhouse, but only if Bedfordshire
can change its habit of missing any bus that has ‘The Future’ on its
destination board.
Four years ago, when I took directors of Nirah on a helicopter over Central
Bedfordshire, I was astonished and horrified by the amount of damage the
extractive industries had done to a broad swathe of the county; it seemed
to go on for miles.
Since then the brick industry has closed down …leaving what? Landfill sites
and empty pits one of which might be used for an incineration plant for
Bedfordshire’s rubbish. As a prospect, could it be much more depressing?
There are, it is true, some pleasant villages but most prospects are hardly
pleasing. And yet, and yet.
This area of Bedfordshire is one of the few areas of the South East of
England capable of being developed in an attractive and sustainable way if
only all the necessary councils, quangos, Government ministers and planners
could get their act together.
Consider the Norfolk Broads: originally they were peat diggings and no doubt
once as unsightly as the Bedfordshire claypits or knotholes as they used to
be called. Now they are considered beauty spots and among the most
popular holiday playgrounds in the country. Now consider what might be
done in Central Bedfordshire.
Some of the claypits have already filled with water. Vegetation is springing
up round them. Others will no doubt also fill with water in due course. A
Bedford to Milton Keynes canal project has been in existence for some
years. It could be routed through precisely this area, allowing canal barges
and other pleasure boats the choice of dropping anchor overnight in quiet
lakes or in towns and villages on the way.
A spectacular boat lift is mooted for Brogborough Hill and locks would have
to be built to cater for the differing levels between the knotholes. But
anyone who has seen the Falkirk Wheel, or even pictures of it, or the
thrilling flights of locks on the Grand Union Canal near Birmingham will
know understand what an attraction water engineering can be.
The Nirah project is still hanging on despite the best efforts of some of our
tunnel-visioned legislators to scupper it. It would provide a major boost to
the conomy with hundreds of direct jobs and many more indirect. The canal
running close-by would provide an alternative means of getting there;
visitors could have their own floating hotels to augment the landlocked
caravan sites and hotels.
Genuine eco-development could run in fingers between the lakes, the
settlements connected not just by roads but by cycle paths and swift, silent
maglev line trains connecting towns with garden industrial, science and
commercial parks.
These settlements would nestle amid the treescapes provided by the
Marston Community Forest and be scarcely visible to the casual traveller.
Commuters would not be an environmental disaster because they would
choose clean, swift public transport whisking them to all points of the
compass and to Eurostar connections at St Pancras.
New industries would come in. Hi-tech ones would be balanced by boatbuilders, chandlers, tourism and floating hotels. Already one local
entrepreneur has plans for a marina in a former gravel pit and an American
company believes it could turn this area into a techno city in which
burgeoning businesses would attract a scientific elite to live in the area and
serve them.
They would bring with them the kind of cultural facilities that Bedfordshire
has largely missed out on, a theatre, decent cinemas and art galleries. They
would expand our watersports offers including dinghy sailing, windsurfing
and waterskiing.
If it were done right, the local population would be less likely to take to the
streets than they were over the so-called ecotown proposals, and there
would always be a residential market for traditional types of houses as well
those using the latest technology
Can it be done? It could be if Governments had the will. A large portion of
the northern Home Counties that have been wrecked to provide the means
to cover the south east with concrete and bricks could be its saviour.
Reluctant as I am to get involved in economic arguments in this forum,
consider this. The Government is spending untold billions in a doomed bid to
get a reluctant and frightened population to go out and spend again. For
what purpose? To rescue banks from the consequence of their own folly but
surely a better – and cheaper – way forward would be to finance schemes
like the one I have outlined.
People will not spend if they are frightened to do so, but major
infrastructure would work on two levels. It would put cash in the pockets of
workers and would show that we were going forward with a purpose instead
of lurching from one disaster to another.
And the end result would be a place where people clamoured to live and
work. Surely better than leaving a lot of holes in the ground until somebody
finds a commercial use for them – which may not be the kind of use we
would like to see.
Bedfordshire has been the forgotten Home County. It’s time for that to