I grew up as a teenager in a market town with a market twice a week – Thursday and Saturday. My father was a born and bred local. My mother had lived in the town since she was in her teens. The nearest significant town was around 15 miles away. The town had an excellent school and it had expanded rapidly with the industry which had grown up in the area in the 1950s. People typically lived in my town but worked farther afield. Does it sound familiar?
In the Ashbourne News Telegraph this week there are some great feature pieces and letters have piled in on the Housing Consultation. As ever there is already rancor in the air. The two stereotypes appear to have formed – those who are born and bred locals who think the influx of new people have spoiled their town, driving up house prices and taking opportunities from their children; and those who are new to the town, who have bought into the Town and want to protect what they thought they had.
There is an excellent letter from Steve Summers in the ANT. He spoke very eloquently and from the heart at the Town Hall meeting. He has a rare vantage point – a local resident affected by the plans, a local businessman looking to develop his business and a family man with interests for his children. He should be listened to. In his letter he highlighted that the brownfield site isn’t all it seems. Behind the fences are a number of activities, businesses and agricultural land which also need to be protected. The land easily available for development is smaller than it seems. There is also a letter from Peter Fox responding to the anonymous letter in the previous week’s newspaper criticizing his lead in the fight against the Greenfield developments. Rightly, he defended his position – everyone has the right to defend their views all he has done is get off his backside and do something about it. Finally, there is a small article with a plan for a development of new houses on a pocket of land just off Wyaston Road – an example of the kind of developments we will see more of, whichever way the decision goes.
This last article is the most important. We are all in danger of exhausting ourselves in the first 400m of a marathon race. All that is being decided is where the planning permissions will be relaxed for new housebuilding. It is still reliant on housebuilders seeing the venues as attractive enough to build and honouring the spirit of the requirement for affordable housing. If the housebuilders construct five bedroomed £400k houses the only option would be for local residents to upsize (would they want to move onto newer estates) or for more newcomers to be attracted to the Town. If the housebuilders construct one and two bedroom apartments everyone will want to be assured that local purchasers are protected and that they don’t all go to more newcomers or people looking to buy to let. Just think about the debates we have had in the town of late. No-one would say they didn’t want a new hospital, a library or nice clean toilets but the debate certainly hotted up when the plans were tabled. We are in danger of arguing against something which could be enormously beneficial to the town – an increase in population to drive employment opportunity, affordable housing for our young people, and potentially a sweetener for the town from builders to address some of the Town’s problems whether it is the Yeldersley smell, the bypass extension or the parking. The devil is in the detail.
I wrote a piece on this blog at the start of the Consultation stating my views. Since I published it I have learned more about the process and the facts of the case and while my view hasn’t changed I am far more conscious of the issues with all the suggested locations and also the plight of young people trying to get a house in the area. I am also questioning my own contribution to the problem. I moved into the area and bought a family house – did I contribute to the problem? What would have happened if I hadn’t done so? I’ve also looked at my views as a teenager in the market town of my birth and what happened with the people I went to school with.
None of us had a plan to stay living in the same town – much as we loved it! The reason we didn’t think about it was we couldn’t see any jobs or companies which would attract us locally. We knew we would have to move out of the area to have the life we were being educated for and this was far more important to us than being able to live where we were born. We were educated (and this is happening at QEGS) to not fear moving away to be educated or to work. If there had been a Rolls Royce, Toyota or a JCB on the doorstep (not in Derby or Rocester) with an annual intake of workers things may have been different. The one voice that is not being heard is that of the young people in Ashbourne who are most affected by the plans. In the world of Social Media I would be surprised if the majority expect to live and die in the Town.
My fear out of the Housing Consultation is that it becomes a divisive rather than a uniting debate. It doesn’t need to be. We all chose Ashbourne and many of the newcomers to the town are some of the biggest contributors to the social wellbeing of the town – giving of their own time to participate in PTAs, charity committees, sports club committees, drama groups, Ashbourne Arts, church volunteers etc. which we all benefit from. They are also many of the business owners who create the jobs that will employ those of our children who do want to stay in the Town. This isn’t new. The history of Ashbourne does show many familiar surnames but the Town is built on a crossroads and is a market town. Those two things automatically mean a dynamic community with new people bringing money into the town. It was ever thus.
While we all have views on the issue we all have a duty to temper the debate to ensure it remains constructive and focused on the people who really do hold our future: Derbyshire Dales District Council, the housebuilders, and our children.