cycle lane

Post Covid-19 Town Planning And Housing Quality Needs To Change

Some good announcements have come from the UK government with Grant Shapps calling for local councils to give higher priority to walkers and cyclists. The mayor’s of London and Manchester has already taken the opportunity to say they will be closing some streets to vehicles to make them pedestrian and cycle friendly.

This move to active travel in the UK is long overdue. Around the world, many larger cities have been planning for active travel for 10 years or more. Look at the new towns and cities of Indonesia and other Asian countries to see how pedestrian areas are a major component. Long green walkways dominate and interweave their way around residential and shopping areas. It’s time for the UK to start to catch up.

The recently announced £2 billion for active travel is a great start to a post corona virus world. But the one thing that has stood out in the UK is the housing inequalities that dominate the country. The terrible quality and sizes of modern houses and, in particular, apartments and bedsits needs to be addressed in the future. UK homes are now substantially smaller than anywhere else in Europe.

Is Covid-19 really a 1 in 100 year event?

There needs to be major changes to the planning and town planning systems after Covid-19. The medical advisers are saying this is a 1 in a 100 year event. It’s not. It’s at least a 1 in 50 year event and it will become even more common in the future.

How is the Corona virus pandemic being described as a 1 in 100 year event? The medical advisers point to the Spanish flue of 1918 as being the last pandemic. But they have ignored the HIV pandemic. That was a global pandemic in the 1980’s, It has killed millions and it is a life changing disease. We now have medication to keep the virus from replicating sufficiently to be infectious to others. But it was – and still is – a deadly global pandemic of the 80’s and 90’s. A vaccine to HIV is still at least 10 years away.

Just like Covid-19 the HIV pandemic was a cross-species or zoonotic disease. In HIV case it  jumped from chimpanzees to humans. It has been traced back to hunters in the late 1940’s or early 50’s around the Kinshasa area who ate chimpanzee meat and became infected. Since then, HIV has killed millions around the world. It was limited to a certain extent because global air travel was still in its infancy. So it did not spread as quickly as it would today. It was also limited to a certain extent by being a sexually transmitted disease. Those who were – and are – sexually active are the ones prone to catching HIV. It’s still abundant in the population but drugs which limit it’s growth can make it harder and almost  impossible for a person to pass on the virus. Also using condoms and good sexual hygiene can aso prevent people being susceptible.

Global travel helped corona virus spread unnoticed

Today’s Covid-19 has spread around the world at an unprecedented rate thanks to cheap and frequent flying. The global passenger transport industry is the ideal pathway for a new virus to spread. Corvid-19 is easily caught but in the main pretty mild for most people. It’s only in the old, frail and sick population that it becomes a problem. The advanced western world is the ideal place for the most serious impact of the virus. With it’s ageing  population and advance medical care offering life to many people with illnesses the deadly impacts of Covid-19 is pronounced.

air travel spreads disease

If 1980’s air travel was as popular as it is today the spread of HIV would have been devastating.

Just like HIV, Covid-19 crossed the species barrier from bats to humans. It’s not known if it was a direct transmission from bats or whether there was an intermediary species such as a snake. It’s quite likely that there was an intermediary species as direct transmission from bats to humans is thought unlikely. Even if the bat is eaten directly it is likely the jump would be too great for the virus. The current suggestion is that snake was the intermediary species. Consumed in Wuhan, it was the start of the global pandemic. But research is still ongoing to discover how this zoonotic disease spread to humans.

If we take the 1918 Spanish flue, 1980’s HIV and 2020 Covid-19 pandemics, we can see this is not a 1 in a 100 year occurrence. And with globalisation and travel set to boom it will be far easier and quicker for new diseases to spread around the world before they come to anyone’s attention. Today’ travellers are looking for the next adventure. So much so that even as people are being macheted to death by rebels and warlords in the national parks of DR Congo tourists still want to visit the parks to see the gorillas and other wildlife. Within just a few months, previous war-torn areas around the world start to see a flourishing tourist industry. This is modern travel. It’s easy, cheap and fast. What better way for a virus to travel and spread out across the planet.

Could the next zoonotic pandemic begin in the UK?

The next pandemic does not need to be in a backstreet market of Africa or Asia. It could come from a council estate in Sheffield or a penthouse apartment of Knightsbridge in London. We live on a global planet with people moving across the Earth with ease. Sadly, there is a thriving global trade of bush-meat as part of the illegal wildlife trade. Unfortunately, we know substantial quantities of bushmeat come into the UK each year.

The next outbreak could come from a Somali refugee family in a council estate in Sheffield. They receive a parcel of wild meat from family in Somalia. It could be the source of the next outbreak. What about the billionaire Chinese businessman having a celebratory meal in his penthouse flat of a business deal well done. On the menu is imported monkey, bats and other wild meats. The next pandemic could easily start in Knightsbridge.

People move and take their cultures with them

We know that when people travel and move they take their cultures with them. Look to the Pakistani child grooming gangs. They have a culture of girls, and particularly foreign girls, being unvalued and just possessions, available to be used. So they rape and abuse white girls and the authorites look away in the name of ‘cultural sensitivities’. Sadly, despite government assurances about going public, an investigation as to why child grooming is so prolific in Pakistani communities remains secret. But anyone – and particularly women – who has visited Pakistan knows the value, or lack of it, that is placed on foreign girls in particular.

Another example is that Somalian, Senegalese and other African girls are physically mutilated with female genital mutilation (FGM). It’s a cultural issue so authorities look away while the number of girls mutilated increases. At one time girls used to be taken out of the country back to Africa to be cut, now the numbers of girls being subjected to the treatment has grown to the stage of cutters being paid to the UK to undertake cutting ceremonies. Again in the name of cultural understanding the authorities choose to ignore the procedures. With over 130,000 victims in the UK you have to ask why so few prosecutions take place.

Global bush-meat trade includes UK markets

chimpanzee bushmeat

Bush meat including chimpanzees is easily available in the UK.

If rape and mutilation of girls is accepted by the authorites, there is little chance that resources are going to be assigned to finding and controlling the illegal import of wild meat into the UK.

A whole range of exotic meats can be bought in every major city and town in the UK. The shipment intercepted by the Border Force is just a small percentage of the total amount of meat coming into the country.

Each shipment of meat can bring with it a range of diseases that have the option to jump over into humans. An example is with chimpanzee meat. Openly available in the UK it was through chimpanzee meat that HIV found it’s way into humans. Researchers worry about diseases coming such as ebola coming into the country through the bushmeat trade.

How likely is it that a UK based doctor is likely to spot a new zoonotic disease arising. With today’s air travel, speed of recognition is of the essence to contain the spread.

Housing needs to meet new potential regular lock-down requirements

If we assume that global zoonotic pandemics are with us and they are going to reoccur every 30 years or so then we need to change the way in which we plan towns and we need to change our house quality and sizes. We have to stop building ever smaller houses, flats and bedsits. We have to stop packing in more and more residences in to smaller and smaller areas.

Last year I turned 57, acknowledged I was never going to afford to buy a house and at my age I would not get a mortgage even if I had the earnings. I decided I would no longer give another penny to a private landlord and bought a camper van. It was the best thing I ever did. Finances, well-being and life experiences are so much better.

I would advise anyone in private rental to consider the vanlife lifestyle. It’s booming across all ages and with singles, couples and even families deciding that private rent is just throwing good money after bad.

The point of this is that, through my work with the church, I can say that my motor home is bigger and better equipped than many bedsits, ‘retirement flats’ and start homes that are in the private sector.  I’ve been in countless small rooms where I’ve not been able to outstretch my arms. If stay at home regulations are going to become a more frequent occurrence then we need to build homes that are suitably sized. 

Pandemic highlights housing inequalities in UK

The one thing this pandemic has highlighted is that we are most certainly not in all this together. Those with houses and gardens have been able to enjoy a few weeks outside. Those without have had to bear weeks of looking at nothing but walls. At least if I want different view I can just drive for a new view. One week it could be woodlands and the next the beach. Full-time life in a camper van is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Stop building ever smaller houses and return to Parker-Morris

uk housing stock

Britain has by far the smallest housing in Europe, much not suitable for lock-down living.

The first things the planning system needs to do is stop permitting smaller homes. It needs to bring back Parker-Morris standards for rooms. All residences must have access to a reasonable outdoor space. Houses should have gardens and flats should have substantial balconies to allow for a couple of chairs and a table.

Every home must have access to private outdoor space. Every home must have rooms that are large enough to exercise in without banging your knuckles on the walls.

Housing estates must have public green space and work with nature

We also need to look at the larger scale. Town planning needs to be reviewed to allow for plenty of green space for residents to enjoy on a walk. There should be housing clusters around a central green space and each cluster connected up with green walk and cycle paths. I have been shocked recently. I am currently working in Newport, South Wales. Driving and walking around exploring, it is amazing to see that industrial estates have more green space and wildlife space than the local housing estates. How did we get it so wrong. Why did we get to the stage of deciding that factories needed nicer environments than people to live in?. When did our system ignore the well-being and quality of life for people? We need a distinct attitude change from decision makers. People and quality of life must take precedence in the future.

Things need to radically change. We need to break open the greenbelt. Then we need to integrate housing and nature, not separate it. People need adequate amounts of green space and this has to be accounted for in development plans. Parks have been closed because they have been overcrowded. This says something about the failure of modern town planning where insufficient space is given over to leisure for the population of the area. In the short term there are lots of green spaces that can be requisitioned by councils. There are golf courses, nature reserves, playing fields and other green spaces that can be opened to the public to relieve pressure from parks. But it reminds us that we need to ensure that there is sufficient space for people when news housing is built. You can not just cram more and more people into a set space without issues arising.

The First Minister for Wales recently said that urban people were more likely to be breaking travel restrictions and stay at home regulations that people in rural areas. It does not take a masters in geography to understand why. Most people in rural areas live in homes with gardens, there are very few flats and bedsits. Rural residents can sit outside and enjoy the sun and fresh air. Urban dwellers tend to live in cramped homes, homes without gardens, many live in ‘studio flats’ and bedsits. It’s little wonder they are happy to break conditions to get some fresh air and sunshine.

Covid-19 highlights inequalities in UK Housing

This pandemic has demonstrated and highlighted the inequalities of Britain’s housing stock. We are at a crossroads. We can continue as we are and become a dystopia with lock-downed population whose only value is to go to work. Or we can choose to tackle the housing inequalities so when the next pandemic comes along people have the space to isolate and live. We can have residential areas operating in tune with nature rather than separated from it. 

The next pandemic could very easily be as infectious as Covid-19 and as deadly and HIV. If long-term lock-downs are as inevitable as climate change as we go into the future then the same degree of consideration needs to be applied. That involves a massive improvement in our housing stock and the way in which housing is organised.


This opinion articles was written by;

Kevin Heath
Editor of Wildlife News.

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