“You have no right to a view, Sir. I’m sorry.” As a rookie town planner it’s one of the first things you learn, as you sit attentively at the feet of the Development Control Manager before your first stint dealing with the punters on reception. Quite right too you may say. It helps us keep a haughty professional distance from such NIMBY considerations in the execution of our duties.
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Wind power has had a rather mixed press lately. More than 100 MPs signed a letter seeking a reduction in subsidies, and the Chairman of the National Trust told the Daily Telegraph that he regarded wind farms as a “menace”. In December they provided 5% of our electricity. But as the Government’s lead scenario is for renewable energy to meet 30% of our needs by 2020, we can expect a lot more of them.
My previous blog post brought the entirely valid response that I do rather look at High Speed 2 through the southern end of the telescope. So when, last week, I was invited to be a panellist in a Guardian on-line discussion about the effects of the line on local economies I thought it would be an ideal opportunity for me to do some CPD.
So HS2 has passed its next hurdle. Having walked the whole route last summer my first thoughts were for those places which I had found to be most affected by the line. For those people who until a couple of years ago had imagined that peace and tranquillity was theirs for ever.
My wife’s threatening to chain herself to the first concrete mixer that shows up at the site. The last time she was this animated about a planning issue was twenty years ago when I tried to explain about Tree Preservation Orders. “You mean they can stop you chopping down a tree in your own garden?” she had asked me incredulously. But this time it’s serious. And it’s on my doorstep.
The 12th of May 2010 was supposed to have been such a great day for Much-Whining-in-the-Wolds. After the indecisive general election result and the shilly-shallying of that untrustworthy Mr Clegg, a coalition had finally been formed and Brown was out. In genteel homes all across the parish very passable champagne was being raised to the lips. Those unbearable socialists might have stopped them hunting over England’s green and pleasant land, but their threat to cover what was left of it in bricks and mortar was in tatters. Instead that nice Caroline Spelman was going to abolish housing targets and let local people decide how many new homes should be built.
“Some people are refusing to leave,” the workman tells me. “The bailiffs are going in any day now”. No – this isn’t Dale Farm. This is the regeneration of the Rowner estate in Gosport, Hampshire. Rowner was built in the 1960’s for Royal Navy personnel. The Navy no longer needed it by the 1980’s and sold it, which was when the problems started. Ten years later it had become a virtual no go area for public services. It is now in the middle of a massive regeneration scheme which will see 500 of the original homes demolished. A lot of these houses were bought privately after the navy pulled out, and a Compulsory Purchase Order has been used to buy them back prior to demolition.
After last year’s election the BBC commissioned a study to identify those places least resilient in the face of public spending cuts. Gosport, on the Hampshire coast, finished rock bottom in the rankings for its mix of business sectors , and in the worst 12.5% overall – a rare southern outlier in a sea of northern industrial towns. So it is perhaps no surprise, a year on, that the Government’s two big ideas for economic development, Enterprise Zones and the Regional Growth Fund, have found their way there.
It only takes five minutes for us to walk along the seafront from the Turner Contemporary, past the arcades, bars and fast food shops of the seafront to Dreamland – once the heart of a holiday in Margate. But what a scene of desolation greets us. The whole place lies empty. The Scenic Railway – the oldest surviving rollercoaster in Britain – is fire damaged but still standing. The cinema is shrouded in scaffolding during essential works to protect the listed building. The only real sign of hope is the hoardings on the seafront which proclaim “Dreams Can Come True” and “Building Dreamland for You”.
Many British seaside resorts have been through hard times over the past thirty years, but Margate has fallen faster and further than almost anywhere else. I’ve played my own small part in this I admit. I went there on holiday as a child – well to Westgate-on-Sea actually, which to my mother was a wholly different and more genteel place – but apart from two trips there for my job I haven’t been back since.