No-one wants new-build housing obscuring their views, or changing the rural nature of their communities. And for most of my 19 years as your MP I have set myself against virtually all out-of-town housing developments. I take the view that once built, the land will never become green again, and that I have a legitimate role in trying to keep this area as rural and charming as it is. After all, that is the very reason why so many people want to come and live here in the first place! So I very much welcome the new plan for Chippenham announced last week, and the withdrawal of the previously planned urban sprawl over towards Bremhill. The unwanted 650 houses at Rawlings Farm are still in the plan, and I have duly objected.
Yet many people reading this column will live in a house built since 1970 or so. And it is vitally important that we try to find low-cost housing solutions for local people. Otherwise our children will soon be priced out of an area like this, to be replaced by incomers with a million pounds to spend. That cannot be right. We all need decent modern homes to live in, and developers and planners are the people who will supply that need.
These thoughts were coursing through my brain as I attended two neatly juxtaposed events last Friday. It was good to be grilled by two groups of students at Purton’s Braden Forest School, and then to be asked to ‘turn the first sod’ at their new sports complex. At the best part of £1million, it is being paid for by ’Section 106’ monies from the much opposed Ridgeway Farm development nearby. And then after a quick visit to the Dementia Friendly ‘Safe Places’ initiative in Royal Wootton Bassett, it was off to visit the brilliant new housing development on the old Chicken Factory site in the middle of Sutton Benger.
The deluge of letters I used to get objecting to the smell from the chicken factory was replaced for a while by people objecting to the 84 houses which have been built on the site. Yet here we have a brownfield site, in the middle of the village; it includes 19 houses at an affordable rent and six for part ownership. It has been built to the highest quality to fit in with the village – garden walls of Cotswold stone and delightful village greens amongst other attractive features. Who could possibly object to such an excellent development? Yet quite a few people did.
So we must fight to preserve our green and pleasant land; we must campaign to ensure that new housing is limited to real need, that it is built and designed to the highest quality and that it sits sensitively with the countryside and towns and villages which we all love in this area. We do not want urban sprawl, nor anything like it. Yet we must allow - nay, encourage – decent development of houses for us all to live in like the one in Sutton Benger.
We must beware of being NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) nor even BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.)