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Tim Bonner: The NIMBY building homes in the countryside

As those of us who live in the South of England know only too well there is an insatiable demand for new housing. Thousands of new houses are being built expanding towns and villages, yet house prices only continue to rise and just getting on the property ladder has become a huge challenge for younger generations. In the countryside in particular, where wages are often lower and house prices higher, there is something close to a housing crisis.

The amount of new house building inevitably means that much of it is on greenfield, agricultural land which brings fundamental change to the countryside. Nothing causes controversy like a planning application as anyone who has ever sat on a planning committee knows only too well. And a planning application for a new town or village is probably the most controversial of all. It is entirely understandable that people do not want to see houses instead of fields, but the reality is that people have to live somewhere, and the question is not whether more houses will be built, but where they will be built.

One man who has accepted that reality and decided to build houses on his own terms is Mark Thistlethwayte who owns the Southwick Estate, just North of Portsmouth. Faced with the threat of compulsory purchase of his land and the development of 10,000 homes he negotiated the planners down to 6,000 houses and chose to develop a new ‘garden village’ himself. He says that he was a ‘Nimby’ when the scheme was announced, but that when it became inevitable wanted to make sure that it “really is the best it possibly can be”. 

The new village of Welbourne still faces much local opposition, but Thistlethwayte has brought in architects and landscapers to deliver his vision of sustainability and good design as well as ensuring that all the necessary services and infrastructure will be in place to serve the new community. As he told The Telegraph “I would much rather there wasn’t the need… and that we didn’t need to concrete over more spaces in our country, but the bottom line is that we do need to build more houses. So the real debate is, how do we build them sensitively and make sure that we do everything that we can for people?”

This is a lesson for all of us on our crowded island about how to meet the demand for housing and maintain the countryside and its communities. The countryside needs more good quality housing or we risk the situation of young people not being able to afford to live in the communities they were brought up in. Development needs to be sensitive to the local community, it needs to meet its needs, not just those of people who may be moving in, but it does need to happen. By engaging with that reality and building on their own terms local people will get the best outcome.


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