The Campaign to Protect Rural England is now campaigning to protect London's sewage farms

A screenshot of the #ProtectLondon map. Image: CPRE.

“The behaviour of any bureaucratic organization,” runs Robert Conquest's third law of politics, “can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.”

I always liked that line, which came to mind earlier today when someone on Twitter alerted me to the existence of the the “Protect London map”, courtesy of the local arm of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, CPRE London. The map

...shows how Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land within Greater London is under threat from development like never before.

...and, in the abstract, it’s a decent enough attempt to crowdsource information on planning applications covering green bits of London. For reasons I've gone into quite enough in the past, I'm kind of okay with eating into the green belt – actually, I’m quite the enthusiast for it – but the CPRE's raison-d'etre is to stop it happening, and it’s a legitimate cause, so bully for them.

The odd thing is not the concept of the map, it’s one particular feature of it. This one:

To be more specific:

Yep. The CPRE is so worried about the risk of creeping development that it won't countenance the removal of any protected status even on an actual sewage works. As the Guardian's wunderkind tech reporter Alex Hern said: 

In the note explaining its inclusion, the pressure group warns that:

Council proposals to remove this site's status as Green Belt, may lead to future development threats. The council should, instead, plan for the enhancement of the space.

(EDIT TO ADD: Actually, we think it's Metropolitan Open Land, rather than Green Belt, but that's by the by.)

The CPRE's response to Hern’s tweet expanded upon this explanation, arguing that it's wildlife that make the space worth defending, not any particular amenity value...

...but then blows it slightly by claiming the site is part of the green chain. It isn't.

Beckton Sewage Works, incidentally, is also pretty much next to Barking Riverside, which is meant to be London's last major vacant housing zone (and which, while currently horrible, is marginally less horrible than an actual sewage works).

If the CPRE is saying shouldn't change land use restrictions there – even though it's miles from the countryside, even though it not the sort of place Londoners can walk their dogs, even though it's a bloody sewage farm...

...then it's clear it will fight such changes anywhere. No matter how ludicrous the existing designations are, no matter how bad the housing crisis gets, no matter how ridiculous it’s making itself look – it will fight these changes to the bitter end.

I’m not saying that the CPRE is being controlled by a cabal of people who secretly want to cover the entire extent of Great Britain in concrete. I’m just saying that it would make sense if it were.

But, hey, at least someone's out there, looking out for the sewage farms I guess.


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CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.