Road rage


"That's where the new Uvaly by-pass will be," said the Mayor. I'd gone to see her to find out who owned the charming little woodland, stream and giant oak tree that the road to my village goes by - just so I could visit it - when there on the map were these ominous dotted lines. "But Uvaly already has a by-pass," was all I could say - built about 30 years ago. And here is this new thing, dotted lines for the moment, snaking through empty fields like some heat-seeking missile to destroy this precious bit of natural landscape. The quiet coppiced dingle, the little brook, the giant oak would all disappear beneath a road junction.

There was worse. Already developers have bought the land on either side of this proposed road to make 'parcels' (simply dividing the land into tiny rectangular plots to sell for houses). One of these 'investors' told me that it would be fine as the road will be bordered by a tall noise-reducing fence. He forgot the adjective ugly.

Since in this country things are either hopelessly backward or state-of-the-art, I'd hoped that development zoning would be the latter. It's moved ahead, but now only reaching the western equivalent of the 1970s. The lessons from elsewhere are clear - if you make a bypass or relief road, keep it clear of development... otherwise, as at Uvaly, you quickly have to build a relief road to relieve the relief road and on it goes. And why choose land directly by a new road for housing? - Why risk blighting lives with noise (or sending drivers to sleep without any kind of view to keep them alert with maddening noise fences)? And where new houses are necessary, then land sub-division into barbecue-grill squares is inhuman and ends up creating suburban dormitories, not communities.

Developers seem to think that major new roads are signals for building - and on both sides of them. Relief roads, which often tend to expand urban areas, should be used as new natural frontiers to development, with rural areas directly beyond them. New roads, without attracting this pipe-fur of building, should wind through the countryside in the same unobtrusive way as railways tend to. Development at motorway junctions also needs to be monitored, otherwise the business of town centres - shops, hotels, restaurants - ends up by the road with devastating effect on the town centre's economy. There are many virtual ghost towns in the USA and western Europe which attest to this.

The iron fist of Communism didn't exactly welcome protest groups - so there's not an established culture here of organising resistance to unsightly roads or to saving bits of unspoiled landscape. To generations used to Central Planning, then the idea of changing these dictates also seems impossible. Quality of life is something that has to be fought for - but in the New Europe there is every chance of success. Let's hope that it's not too late for the little woodland at Skvorec or to wake planners' minds up to the thought that new houses don't have to cling to the edges of motorways... earplug life behind the giant fences, but in properly planned, quiet communities fit to work in as well as just to sleep in.