LAST week we counted down (or up?) to world population of seven billion. Of this number 55 per cent live in urban situations, a figure that rises to 80 per cent in West Sussex.
Already 105,000 people are already squashed into Worthing’s coastal conglomeration in an area which already has less green space than almost anywhere else in Europe, and which is looking at considerably more ‘infill’ and ‘up-fill’.
Increase in population poses problems for realistic Town Planning with increasing conflict between developers, working within existing material and financial systems, and activists concerned by the degradation of our future environment. Sometimes our own elected Representatives seem driven, powerless, by one sector – and without a properly informed public debate.
With respect to forthcoming building developments in Worthing - we might ask if these should be taking place at all in a town that is already over capacity in terms of future sustainability. Large building projects supposedly ‘drive’ the economy providing new jobs, new homes and new supermarkets. However, this is only true in the short term.
With respect to employment, jobs in the building industry may be lost once a housing etc. project is complete thereby increasing the number of unemployed. Folk moving into new housing developments also need to find employment and it is doubtful whether this could be provided in Worthing. Being a ‘dormitory town’ is not a good option either as it puts a further strain on transport infrastructures and, besides, unemployment may well rise everywhere else.
With respect to new homes, water is a key element or ‘service’ that needs great consideration. Destruction of natural environment and increase in concrete and asphalt means that fresh rain water is not absorbed but runs off surfaces into drains and out to sea. Downpours can cause flooding as has been experienced in both Chichester and Lewes in recent times and on a massive scale at other locations globally. The flip side to this problem is that the fresh water is lost to sea and does not top up ground water. In times drought, as in 1976, a drop in ground water levels can lead to incursion of sea water, rendering some aquifers permanently useless as a drinking supply. Furthermore new houses, and higher rise accommodation, will require greater supplies of water for attendant designer bathrooms, plus disposal of sewage and grey water. Overstretched water treatment facilities can lead to health hazards and environmental degradation – something that can become a minor disaster in the case of a flooding incident.
With respect to food supply, most of us shop in supermarkets. These organisations drive in food from other locations in the UK and abroad. Our external food supply is dwindling due to growing world population, and an increased incidence of environmental disasters like floods or famine. Building more and more supermarkets in our town is not an answer to longer term food supply, or to employment for that matter, as those behind a check-out are only distributing food to customers and not growing it. . Worthing, once a rich market garden renowned internationally for its tomatoes and other horticultural produce, is sadly becoming engulfed in concrete.
Recently the government has published a Natural Environment White Paper, and by next March the U.K National Ecosystem Assessment should be ready for publication.
These documents should more properly inform building projects and developments, counterbalancing some potentially adverse effects of relaxing planning law through the new Localism Bill. This may help us to use the natural environment, on which our children & grandchildren ultimately depend, more sustainably in the longer term.
Meantime, we in Worthing should be able to embark on a much more informed, positive, creative , holistic and open debate regarding future Town Planning with our elected representatives – and - without the feeling of being ‘threatened’ by those with a vested interest in short term development.
St Thomas Road, Worthing