The Bottom Line


Cotswold TrafficTraffic Now - After 1400 Houses? The Cotswold region is the largest AONB – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – in the country. An official designation, it is a recognition of the region's singular characteristics, in terms of scenery, history, geology and nature. Ultimately, it is a conservation measure. Like all such measures, it has its admirers and detractors. On the one hand, the region's beauty is protected. On the other, natural evolution is stifled by petty bureacracy and inflexible regulation.

For those areas that fall immediately outside or adjacent to the AONB, but which are aesthetically linked to it, the problems is a different one: the age-old conflict between planners, developers and local people. Let us take an example. Leckhampton Hill, which overlooks Cheltenham, is part of the AONB. The fields across the road from the base of Leckhampton Hill, in the village of Leckhampton itself, are not. Many villagers there, through their protest movement with the acronym LEGLAG, are currently resisting a longstanding attempt to build some 1400 houses on these fields. The various bodies involved are in conflict. Developers regard the site as perfect for their business. Councils and planners seem, on the whole, to be in favour of the project based on government policy, itself based on the need to galvanise the ailing economy and to meet housing needs as projected by statisticians and the like. Local people are generally against it because it will sweep away a valued amenity and because they are uncomfortable with the scale of the development.

What is the best way to resolve a similar dilemma? Probably by asking if such a dilemma is strictly inevitable. My feeling is that it is not. If there is a shortage of housing, or if there may be one, then the question to ask is whether the construction of what amounts to a small town in a small space is the solution. Who, exactly, will be purchasing these houses? Not those who cannot now afford the prices of property in Cheltenham, because these new houses will not be cheap. How will the inevitable increase in traffic on already congested lanes be dealt with? Poorly, going on past experience.

The answer is not to build huge developments in one place, which profit noone except the developers, but to spread the load evenly. There are plenty of beautiful but lifeless villages in the Cotswold AONB that might benefit from a few additional houses, which then could see the return of schools, shops and pubs. In England the bottom line – the 'market' – is all too often the master of all it surveys, and a poor substitute for imaginative thinking. Cost is important but should not be confused with quality of life; and we need to be wary of the disingenuous exploitation of statistics, promises and projections.

NewsVictoria Fielden