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Concreting over the Countryside - an English 'Urban' Myth

Earlier this week, the BBC Website published a really interesting research tool, which allows you to look up the percentage of land in a particular land use, by local authority area.

Land use is divided into four main categories, with a percentage land use statistic associated with each one. The four relevant categories are:

  • Farmland  (fields, orchards, agricultural);
  • Natural or semi-natural (moors, heathland, natural grassland, woodland);
  • Built on (developed land); and 
  • Green urban (parks, gardens, golf courses, sports pitches)

The statistics are really rather revealing and do rather debunk any claims that the UK is a) full or b) being concreted over - one housing estate at a time*. Only 5.9% of the land within the UK has been built on; with 56.7% being farmland and 34.8% being natural green space.

This 5.9% figure may, in fact, be an over-estimate. As the website's 'methodology' disclaimer makes clear:

"The largest component of the "built on" category is "discontinuous urban fabric", within which 20-50% of the surface area may be green space. To account for this we have reassigned the minimum 20% of "discontinuous urban fabric" to "green urban", which in many cases may be an underestimate. The map uses building land cover data from Ordnance Survey"

and the real figure for the percentage of developed land within the UK is likely to be lower.

I strongly recommend having a look, as the contrasts between neighbouring authorities can be quite interesting. 

For example, having spent some time this morning, looking up my local area, I can now confirm that:

  •  7% of Tunbridge Wells has been built on, as compared to
  • 14% of Tonbridge & Malling;
  • 4% of Wealden;
  • 8% of Sevenoaks; and
  • 5% of Rother

This may be the most entertaining work-related procrastination tool I have found in a while; but it also has the potential to be rather useful for responding to local concerns about land use - or the lack of room for new development in your local area.

* This is actually how my mother describes what I do for a living. I have emailed her the link to the BBC Land Use tracker. 

More than half of the UK land area is farmland (fields, orchards etc), just over a third might be termed natural or semi-natural (moors, heathland, grassland etc), a little under 6% is built on (roads, buildings, airports, quarries etc) and 2.5% is green urban (parks, gardens, golf courses, sports pitches etc).

The four categories are drawn from 44 different land use codes used by the Co-ordination of Information on the Environment (Corine) project initiated ... in 1985.

The local authorities with the highest proportion of farmland are the Isles of Scilly (96%) and Mid Suffolk (95%). The council area with the greatest quantity of "natural" landscape is Highland (91%). The City of London has the highest amount of land that is built on (98%) and the local authority with the greatest proportion of green urban is Richmond upon Thames (58%).