I went to Guernsey this weekend to stay with a friend. On the way there the Aurigny ATR72 flew at an altitude of around 15,000 feet on a path from Gatwick to Poole before crossing the channel. It was the ideal vantage point to see the landscape of West Sussex and Hampshire.
There is almost nothing there.
It's easy to think that the whole of the south of England is overbuilt. But it's a myth. There is a huge amount of empty space. I have a running argument with my mother about the need for more house-building and it always ends with her telling me something like - 'You can't concrete over the whole country. It has to be able to grow its own food.' She recently suggested that I spend a week on a farm to help me understand whatever it is that I am missing.
I certainly am missing something. Her son is renting (and sharing) at the age of 38 and has been overweight since his late twenties. Obesity is soaring, children are getting adult-onset diabetes. Yet she worries about the strategic need to maintain national food self-sufficiency. It finally dropped on me last month that her earliest memories are of the Second World War and the post-war rationing. It must make a deep impression and I wonder whether it's influenced the way policy-makers of her generation have thought about land-usage ever since.
I don't worry about that so much, as I don't think future wars are going to be like WW2. Either we get nuked or we'll face some sort of insurgency/civil war driven by fanatics, like in Iraq and Sri Lanka. I don't see the country being surrounded by U-boats and denied supplies of food from the Commonwealth. In any case it's also possible for the UK to have a greater population density and still have agriculture. The Netherlands has a far greater population density than the UK and it exports food to us!
All of which brings me to this piece in the Times -
which demolishes the overbuilding myth and suggests changes to the way homes are designed.
ps - on the return journey the plane crossed the channel on a different flightpath, reaching the mainland at Brighton. Once that's out of view there's nothing to see until you land at Gatwick.