Given the report from MPs about environmental risks associated with a mass housing programme, John Prescott's summit did not begin in a very positive way this week. But the 2,000 souls who descended on Manchester for the talk-fest did not seem at all perturbed. 'Large chunks of the Netherlands are below sea level and they seem to cope quite happily, so why can't we?' was one refrain. Others saw the proposed demolition of homes in the north as a balancing factor, and we were also reminded that only about 12 per cent of our land is built on. What are we more worried about, the needs of ordinary people for decent homes, or the sensitivities of folk who think chemically treated farmland represents, in some obscure way, the countryside ethos of Old England?