17 February 2018
Dear Mr Green
Re. Government house building policy
I am a resident of Shadoxhurst and I am deeply concerned about the impact of the Government’s current house building policy on the quality of life in our village and the wider rural community. My concerns are shared by people living in similar villages in the Ashford Borough district, particularly by those closest to Ashford itself where housing growth is set to destroy precious countryside and wildlife habitats, and subsume long established villages and communities. This will damage the quality of life of people living in your constituency.
I am frustrated by Ashford Borough Council’s response to our concerns. However, it is clear that the Council are facing many challenges as their policies and priorities are ultimately driven by house building targets set by Government. These all-consuming targets were set in an economic and political climate that is irrelevant to today’s market and social needs and are now largely unachievable. Furthermore, the penalties imposed by Government on councils who fail to meet these targets involve imposing increases in their existing house building target. This is perverse as it can only worsen the situation at every level, especially in terms of the added pressure it places on rural areas.
Together, as individuals and through representative bodies, many local people have used all possible means to have our detailed concerns heard and adequately addressed. These important concerns include:
- The impact on the local highway network during construction over many decades and the management of inevitable increases in traffic when the thousands of homes become occupied.
- The inadequacy of the existing surface water drainage and the lack of a strategic approach for dealing with the impact of water displacement from these massive housing developments.
- The lack of resilience within our local NHS, social care and other services, and lack of plans for improvements in these areas to match demand ahead of anticipated population growth.
- The lack of coherent plans to improve the currently inadequate School provision. This results in large numbers of children being bused to and from school, in addition to many school run car journeys.
- The permanent loss of countryside and precious green spaces in and around our villages, with irreparable environmental damage and loss of wildlife habitats.
I believe that in the main we have been humoured, treated as a hindrance to the process of delivering the Government’s policies and priorities. Our well-presented and very serious concerns have had no or little impact on final decisions. These are decisions that will have a direct impact of on our quality of life now and for generations to come.
Many village communities and individuals in your constituency are choosing to join ‘Rural Means Rural’. This grass roots group is focused, structured and well organised.
It is concerned about the cumulative effects of the many small pockets of development in rural areas as well as the propensity of building on greenfield sites to meet national housing requirements. The Group supports appropriate development in rural locations but believes that the current scale and pace is resulting in irreversible and substantial damage to all aspects of rural life.
In broad terms the Rural Means Rural group aim to campaign for:
- Public and political support for consistent and enforceable protection policies that are meaningful to local people.
- The inclusion of these protection policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for the benefit of all areas of Britain, rural and urban.
- Appropriate development in rural settings.
- Protection of the unique rural characteristics of our villages.
- Clearly defined criteria for green strategic gaps between settlements.
Rural Means Rural have stated that they “want to ensure that ‘Green Corridors’ are maintained around villages such as Shadoxhurst to provide a buffer that will retain their distinct identities and rural characteristics”.
Many people in our village community describe it as being under siege.
New housing is currently being built in and around Shadoxhurst and permission has been granted for thousands more homes, with many more proposed for the future. I believe that there is a complete lack of any holistic vision or strategy coming from either central government or the local planning authority. Rural Means Rural are breathing fresh air into the stagnant and depressing situation that currently exists. As such they will receive my full support and I anticipate the support of substantial numbers of other people too.
I recognise that national government has many challenging priorities to juggle, and that this challenge is further heightened by the demands of Brexit. I know that the government is making “the housing crisis” a top priority and it is clear that there is a particular need for more affordable housing. However, there is no indication that many of the proposed developments in our villages will prioritise homes that are truly affordable for young people or those on low incomes.
On the contrary, experience shows that developers often include the bare minimum ratio of affordable housing in their submitted planning applications. Also, after permission is granted, some developers persuade the Planning Authority to allow still fewer to be built on the grounds of the development’s commercial viability. The most recent housing development here in Shadoxhurst included six affordable homes. Building works on this development ended over 18 months ago, however some of these expensive yet apparently affordable homes remain unoccupied.
Many of your constituents feel that we are being taken for granted, that there is no point in commenting on planning applications as Government policy is tying the hands of the Planning Authority.
As a result many of us feel completely disenfranchised politically.
This should concern you as I am sure that you expect us to continue voting for you and your party colleagues at general and local elections in the future. As a former senior Cabinet member in this current administration you may have a legacy that resonates long after any impact of Brexit.
Consider the 1963 Beeching Report entitled “The Reshaping of British Railways”. In the same way that over 50 years later many people continue to lament the loss of their railways. Our children will tell their grandchildren of the countryside, the precious wildlife habitats and our villages, each with their own unique rural character. All taken from us by government priorities and policies that ‘reshaped our rural life’ and failed to fix the housing crisis.
I look forward to hearing how you can reassure me that our concerns are unfounded.
Ian Procter MA, FInstLM.