Liz Truss' campaign to boost UK food security is heading for the bunker, unless she moves urgently to tackle the golf blight
A blight is spreading across the UK, eating up valuable agricultural land and scarring the landscape with ugly developments that are pushing production of meat and other traditional British produce overseas. It is a blight that Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss, brave opponent of rural solar farms, must surely recognise and now act urgently to address. I am talking, of course, about golf courses.
Now, I am not against golf courses per se. They are fine on unproductive sand dunes or even on commercial roofs (I'm thinking of those Tokyo-inspired driving ranges with their endless banks of tees). But food and farming is our number one manufacturing industry, the whole food chain represents £100bn in our economy, and it is a real problem if we are using productive agricultural land for golf courses.
And we are. Extensively. I was tempted not to bother to research precisely how big an impact golf courses are having on the UK's green and pleasant land. After all, instinctively I know there are a lot of them and they must therefore have a big impact on the UK's food production. I've seen them. With my own eyes. There are loads of golf courses and they look horrible.
But I'm not that lazy and I am aware that if you are going to call for a moratorium on something that many people cherish you need some evidence. So I did some research (turned to Google) and apparently there are over 2,000 full 18 hole golf courses in England and hundreds of smaller courses. Combined, their approximately 270,000 hectares is equivalent to two per cent of the country's land area. In the midst of what politicians are apt to describe, when it suits them, as a food security and housing crisis that is a lot of massively unproductive land. And no, I do not regard Rupert from accounts getting his handicap down to 23 as a productive use of such a high value asset.
Of course, some people will argue that golf courses are strangely beautiful, that they are a marvel of modern landscaping, adding to the UK's vistas. To which I say, have these people ever seen a wildflower meadow? And if they still think these abominations of fertilizer, pesticide, and thwarted imagination are beautiful, do they want the UK to become an agricultural powerhouse? Would they like their children to have somewhere to live? Enough is enough, these ugly excuses for the countryside need to be halted.
Others will claim that golf boosts our economy, creating much needed jobs and revenues. But these are jobs that could just as easily be created by putting the same land to more productive use. And imagine the productivity boost for the UK's world-leading banking and legal industries if our financiers and lawyers spent less time wrestling with the heartache caused by their inability to master a tricky par four on the back nine. Not to mention, envisage the benefits to the NHS of bringing an end to the drink-related injuries associated with the 19th hole.
Inevitably, a moratorium on new golf courses will not be easy for government to deliver, particularly when they will have to battle the well-connected vested interests that make up the golf blob. But it is time for Ministers to stand up to this all-powerful lobby and instruct planning officials to bring an end to this blight. If local authorities refuse to act and continue to work under the misguided assumption that local planning officers are best placed to make decisions that affect local environments the Communities Secretary should use his powers to personally review any and all golf-related planning applications. The tax system and every other policy lever in the government's arsenal should then be used to roll back the seemingly never-ending march of the golf course.
Now, to paraphrase the peerless Stewart Lee, I do not really think golf courses should be banned. Some of my best friends are golfers. I am using an exaggerated form of the rhetoric and implied values of Liz Truss, Eric Pickles and some of their Conservative colleagues to satirise the rhetoric and implied values of Liz Truss, Eric Pickles and some of their Conservative colleagues that are deployed when they discuss solar farms and other forms of renewable energy. And yes, it is a shame to have to break character to explain that.
However, while I absolutely do not wish to see new golf courses banned and existing golf courses returned to agricultural production or sold to housing developers, I will make this point. There are over 2,000 18 hole golf courses in England alone, some may be located on recovered quarries or disused airfields, but many are on previously productive agricultural land or on the edge of towns where housing stock is in short supply. I would wager each and every one of these golf courses is larger than the UK's biggest solar farms.
Meanwhile, Truss and co are getting agitated because there are around 250 solar farms in the UK and we may end up with 1,000 by the end of the decade. Many of these new solar farms will be specifically targeted at genuinely ugly, disused and unproductive land. Many others will be co-located so that livestock grazing or support for local wildlife habitats can continue alongside the solar panels that generate the clean and increasingly cost-competitive power the UK desperately needs. These solar farms will not be targeted at beautiful rural landscapes so that executives on a Golf Day jolly get a nice view from the seventh tee. Moreover, if solar developers do seek to impose projects on an unsuitable landscape local planning officers can and do block them.
I don't think golf courses should be banned, but when it comes to food production and landscape impacts perhaps there is a case for ministers dealing with the non-issue that is excessive golf development before addressing the separate non-issue that is solar farms' impact on our food security.
Environmental groups warn draft plan approved by International Maritime Organisation (IMO) could see shipping emissions rise over next decade
Plus all the top green business news from around the world, including PGE ditching coal, Peru and Switzerland CO2 offset deal, and Australia green power project
Veggie burgers are safe, but campaigners warn debate has distracted from broader Common Agricultural Policy proposals set to be voted on this afternoon that they say will seriously hurt European small farmers and natural habitats
The US clothing firm reveals how digital technologies could finally make circular fashion a reality