The Idea + Local Awareness & Involvement
The idea for Walking Berkeley Vale’s Endangered Byways came about after speaking to a lot of different people at the pub about the proposed development in this area: 5,000+ new houses all over green fields, running nearly up to the banks of the River Severn which wouldn’t be completed until 2050.
I was astonished to learn that the vast majority of people – all around the Berkeley area – had not engaged in any previous consultations about the enormous proposed housing estate that was imminently going to become their new urbanised hometown.
They had very little idea of the magnitude of the proposed development.
They were also unaware that they had one final chance to get their views and objections formally considered by the Independent Planning Inspectorate from the 26th of May which lasts for a 6 week period.
Their reasons were all understandable. Some felt they were powerless to stop this “runaway train”. Some wanted to respond but were put off my the incredibly lengthy and difficult forms you had to fill in on Stroud District Council’s website. Some were simply time-poor with families, full time jobs and all-consuming life commitments that meant they wanted to but simply didn’t get around to responding. A lot – I was shocked to hear – didn’t know much at all about the proposals or any ways they could have engaged.
During Covid people were also far less concerned with Stroud District Council’s Local Plan than they could have been given the inability for people to meet and come together to discuss what was being proposed.
I needed to find a way to quickly and effectively connect people to the prospect of this massive, irreversible and devastating development – but in a way that positively and physically connected people to it as well.
So I started designing walks through our beautiful fields, footpaths and byways to really hammer home the potential loss of so much, and hoped to garner support and enthusiasm for protecting our beautiful and important rural area.
NIMBY Criticism + Home Affordability
I have obviously had quite a lot of the NIMBY criticisms directed at me since I started this a few weeks ago! But really my motivations for this project run much deeper than a Not In My Back Yard reaction. If such a thing exists, I am a NIABY – Not In Anyone’s Back Yard. Fundamentally I don’t believe that the government’s approach to planning or their “Build Build Build” strategy is a sound or effective way to deal with our current housing crisis.
There is a lot of evidence to show that employing a simple “increase supply to deal with demand” approach has much, much less effect on the rates of homelessness, house prices or home ownership than it should. This is because the housing crisis has been caused by a lot of significant but complex factors, So the solution is similarly complex.
It has been shown time and time again that fiscal intervention has much more of an impact than simply increasing housing stock. Interest rates, employing rent caps, and not allowing buy-to-let investments on properties (among many other possible interventions), all transform the ability for first time buyers to enter the housing market.
What Could Help Affordability & Homelessness?
While rents are high, people cannot afford to save for extortionate deposits so there is no way for first time buyers to realistically afford to pay the cost of a highly-inflated value of a house. It took the death of my dad for my husband and I to afford to buy our first house when my son was two and a half and my daughter was about to be born!
Private sector lending and the relentless-drive to for us all to become home owners removes other alternative ways of living which in many other counties has been shown to help alleviate a potential housing crisis. Multi-generational living with subsidies for living in a much more connected way throughout our communities is something counties in Europe do effectively – but is not taken on as a feasible approach here.
Encouraging current values and the aspirational way that we are told we must live is totally unsustainable and this surge of new house building only fuels this even more.
Tail Wagging the Dog – landowners & developers driving what is built & where
The other significant problem I have with the government’s “Build Build Build” strategy can be summed up by my “where where where” response!
Building new housing now depends on local land owners approaching their local council and offering it up for development.
The developers work very closely with the land owners to make sure their proposed development ticks a lot of the council’s boxes for providing new housing stock, but obviously only within the parameters of profitability.
Developers know how to propose developments that allow them to provide the least amount of basic (and costly) infrastructure, social housing and services, like schools and community facilities to – surprise surprise – maximise their profits.
The inclusion of mid-rise developments which provide flats with enough space and designed to foster a feeling of strong happy communities are also not as profitable as building 3/4 bedroom houses.
Thus many people wanting to get onto the housing ladder are looking at a glut of £200,000+ multi-bedroomed new homes which are simply not within most first time buyers’ grasp.
Greenfield v Brownfield Sites
Developers also like greenfield land. It is the easiest and cheapest to develop. Brownfield sites are not cheap to develop as they need cleaning up first and this is expensive, cutting into developers profits. So they’d rather leave those much more logical sites to go undeveloped. This profit driven approach to providing new housing is a broken system.
It does not take into consideration the far reaching and damaging effects of development on huge swathes of green belt land.
The difficulty is that some people might be tricked into thinking “more houses, more places for people to live, it’s a shame to develop the countryside but it’s needed”.
Climate Change & Emergency
However the costs of developing on the countryside during a spiralling climate emergency are even more costly than people think. Sadly many people won’t really appreciate this until it starts happening to them – likely in less than 50 years time – when we must all accept the rising sea levels and will all have to take on a whole new approach to how we live.
Fundamental issues that don’t necessarily exist now WILL become a reality in our lifetimes. Building on land – taking our area as an example – that will be continually flooded and render the majority of new 5,000+ houses completely unliveable, makes a proposed development like this frankly ridiculous.
The Local Walks & their Themes
And so it is that I have planned a walk around the proposed development area for each weekend that the consultation is running (6 weeks but 7 weekends including the one just beforehand ).
Each walk has a theme centred around the issues in this proposal. Issues that I hope people will get a much deeper understanding of – and connection to – by doing them.
With Your Help We Can Win Together
The Berkeley and Sharpness Action Group (BaSRAG) have been instrumental in going through all the documents, evidence and reports that have been presented by the council to back up their Local Plan.
Now that the consultation is open, they are working hard to provide us all with advice possible on how we can best respond effectively to this final consultation.
Please check out the What Can I Do? – Your Next Step page on this website to see how to do this.
We will be keeping it updated with all the latest help and advice.
This is NOT a done deal.
This is YOUR beautiful and important rural area. You have the power to be part of something that can turn this decision around. It might feel a bit like David and Goliath this, but remember – David won 💪🏼
Thank you for reading.