Few things arouse such strong feelings as the prospect of uncontrolled development in the countryside, whether it be out of town shopping, wind turbines or hundreds of new houses. It is large scale housing development which now threatens irrevocable change to the character of villages across the Penistone area. Is it really needed? What would be the side-effects?
Firstly, let us consider the apparent need which we are told is for 1,100 new, mostly executive homes. At the end of 2012 there were 710,240 empty homes in England of which 259,842 were classed as long term having been unoccupied for six months or more. Across Yorkshire and the Humber nearly four in every hundred houses are empty. At the same time there were 51,640 families in temporary accommodation in England as a whole. Across the Borough there are around 3,400 empty homes in addition to an unknown number on the market, many of which appear to remain unsold for months or even years. It is for those who advocate further development to explain how any of this adds up to an excess of demand over supply. Or how more building could do other than make the sale of existing properties more difficult.
Secondly, we need to consider the consequences some of which are obvious, some possibly unintended. Even if a demand for further executive housing can be established there would be an impact on the wider community. Schools are virtually full so how could extra children be accommodated? Peak time traffic congestion would become even worse as limited public transport would leave residents no alternative to the car especially as with few employment opportunities in the area they would need to commute to surrounding towns. Building on the outskirts of villages reduces the land available to absorb rainfall and increases the risk of flooding by surface water. Then there is the capacity of the water and sewerage systems, already under pressure in places. Poor broadband connectivity in some areas would prove another handicap especially to anyone who wished to set up a business or even work from home.
What about the unintended consequences especially of building on farm land? The UK only produces 59% of the food it consumes. In 2010 food exports were Â£14 billion and imports Â£32.5 billion. With the high cost of entry into farming and comparatively low earnings there may be little wonder that, with the average age of farmers increasing, the temptation to sell land for building becomes almost irresistible. Land once built on is lost forever.
There is some need for affordable housing in country areas so that the young do not need to move to find a home and can remain in the rural economy but we should still challenge those who view our pleasant pastures as nothing more than a building site.
First published in the Barnsley Chronicle – Penistone in Particular – September 2013