Concreting over Bampton
by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/09/13
The people of Bampton (population 2500 at the time of the 2001 census) are up in arms. Two separate developers have recently submitted applications to build large housing developments on agricultural land in the outskirts of this village. If these plans were to be approved the population of Bampton would at a stroke increase by almost a third. It would be like Witney getting 7000 extra inhabitants overnight, or Oxford another 50,000. To make matters worse, the largest site is also prone to flooding. Well actually most of Bampton is, as those who have lived in the village all their lives can tell you. But no matter, the developers are determined to pour concrete on green fields – a recipe guaranteed to increase the risk of flooding. And in this they have the blessing of our national politicians.
Needless to say, most of the local people are opposed to such large-scale developments.This has nothing to do with nimbyism; it is common sense. People want good housing with proper amenities, not just an opportunity for developers to make a quick buck. These are key concerns that the local Green Party shares.
Everyone knows we have a housing crisis in England. But you can’t resolve this by concreting over half of our countryside. There are other alternatives that should be implemented first. For example, releasing more brownfield sites and sorting out the incredible number of empty dwellings – over 6500 in Oxfordshire alone. Moreover, local councils must be allowed to reinvest rent money in new and affordable properties to let. Above all we need to build houses where people need them most, close to their jobs and schools, avoiding the need for long commute.
Although there is a housing shortage even in isolated villages like Bampton, we can’t expect there to be more than a token amount of affordable housing aimed at local people in these proposed developments. The developers are licking their lips at the prospect of attracting wealthy buyers from outside the district. In their marketing literature they are making much of the theoretical closeness of the village to the national motorway network. Anyone who has experienced rush-hour traffic on the Oxfordshire trunk roads will know just how realistic that is!
Strategic principles aside, there are very sound reasons for opposing these developments. They can be summarised in a single word: sustainability. The local economy cannot possibly support several hundred new families. This means that virtually every new resident, unless retired, will be forced to commute daily. Some of Bampton’s current residents already commute as far afield as Slough and Milton Keynes. With increasing pressure on jobs more people will be commuting further afield, packing several hundred more daily car journeys on to small and ill- maintained unclassified roads. This in turn will damage the already weak transport infrastructure, pour tons of CO2 and other pollutants into the countryside and create misery all round.
Ironically, just at the time when these developments have been announced, the county council is considering a reduction in the already meagre rural public transport provision. In Bampton an entire bus route may be scrapped. Don’t they know that building lots of new houses will mean more buses will be needed, not less?
Other concerns about the proposed developments include education, as the local school is already over capacity. More parents will be obliged to drive their children to neighbouring villages and towns – creating further unnecessary car journeys, more emissions, more noise and even more accidents. How an increased amount of refuse and effluents will be disposed of is another question that has not been answered.
What is most disturbing from an environmental perspective is the loss of good agricultural land. Just when there is almost universal agreement that something should be done to reduce ‘food miles’ and make greater use of food produced locally, the council is proposing to allow more land to be taken out of production – for ever.
The Green Party has a clear housing manifesto. This includes minimising the use of greenfield sites, favouring small self-build co-operatives instead of speculative developments like those now under consideration. The coalition government has so far only paid lip service to the environment and to sustainability. Ministers have even even implied that it would be OK for developers to build on National Parks, provided they made up for it somewhere else. This is an argument that reduces the countryside to a commodity. It becomes an asset from which just a few would benefit to the detriment of the many. Just like the government’s energy policy, for example.
It’s time to have a complete rethink about these issues. A 21st-century Britain needs a new and more sustainable approach to housing, one that fosters equality of opportunities and creates long-term solutions. We need to get rid of policies that have failed most of us and think about future generations. What are we waiting for?