On 20 July I went along to the Eastleigh Borough Council meeting, most of which was given over to the review of the Local Plan for new housing and employment. 25 people were given the opportunity to speak for up to five minutes each in response to this, most of them representing local or national organisations. I wondered for a moment whether I should have been up there. But the danger in my position is that people would have seen it as the Church’s view, and our Church doesn’t have an official view – and neither should we! Our role is to be here for every person in our community, regardless of who they are and their views on issues such as this.
But then, my role is also help us all to think in a Christian way about such issues. So what’s a Christian view on the Local Plan? No easy answers, I’m afraid. But the Bible gives us two important principles:
1. The environment matters
‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ (Psalm 19.1)
‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”’ (Genesis 1.26)
‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Genesis 2.15)
The natural world is incredibly beautiful and speaks to us of the glory of the Creator. But in recent years we have also come to realise just how important it is to care for the environment and work in tune with nature. Christians were a bit slow at first, but churches are now at the forefront of efforts to do this – and we’ve discovered that it was there in the Bible all along! In Genesis 1, ‘to rule’ is not an invitation to rape and destroy for our own satisfaction, but a responsibility to care and steward wisely, and there are now Christian organisations which encourage and help churches to do this better (e.g. A Rocha’s Eco Church awards).
2. People matter
‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Genesis 1.28)
Whatever we think about the start of the Bible, creation is clearly designed so that there will be growth in population. Each one of those people matters – they are made ‘in the image of God’ according to Genesis and the ‘crown’ of creation. They must therefore be given places to live. Population growth was clearly seen as a blessing in the Bible, but it must surely be one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. I’m not just thinking about whether or not a few houses are built in our parish. Just think of the vast numbers of impoverished people in other parts of the world living in incredibly over-crowded conditions and the countless refugees. Huge vision and determination are needed to tackle that – I wonder if anyone is even starting.
But people also need the environment. On a very basic level, we need space for recreation and refreshment. But we also need biodiversity – without the rain forest, without the bees... we die.
No, there really aren’t straightforward answers! But some sort of balance is required. As sustainability consultant, Abby Bartlett, says, ‘Sustainable development involves a balance between the economic, the environmental and the social factors of a development.’
Nimbyism must be resisted on the grounds that it is selfish, not caring about needs of other people. But for the sake of the very same people and many others, we also have to consider the land. The relative merits of different areas – how beautiful they are as well as the environmental impact – have to be weighed incredibly carefully. Each of the options must be evaluated according to the same criteria and done as thoroughly and open-mindedly as possible. What might be rather convenient in the short term may not be the best long- term solution. Another story from Genesis, Noah and the Flood, speaks powerfully of the danger of listening only to ourselves, and in an age of climate change the imagery of the story is especially hard-hitting.
To come up with the right Local Plan for Eastleigh is a great responsibility, and it would be good if we could pray for our Borough Council as they seek to do this in the coming months. And wherever the new homes are built – north of Bishopstoke, south-east of Bishopstoke, or elsewhere in the Borough – we will welcome the new residents as our neighbours and do all we can to help them build a good community.
Meanwhile, during the Creation Season (1 September – 4 October) our Church will be thinking about issues to do with caring for all of creation – climate justice, farming and food waste.
With every blessing