I’m enjoying the winter sunshine and chatting to a villager. My eye is lured across our narrow valley where a white horse leads a flock of running sheep, an identical horse to the rear ensures the last animals don’t lag behind. They move at a decent pace along a wooded path which cuts across a field owned by Somerset County Council.
My neighbour an I have to move aside for a family trotting neatly past on huge hunters. I greet them with, “Perfect day for it!” Straight backed, smart in Harris Tweed jackets, expensive jodhpurs and knee-high boots, to a man they turn their noses skywards, even their ten year old daughter. Either they are too grand or they think they’re too good for us who live in enjoined cottages; yes such things matter in rural England.
The field I referred to is one of two being bought from the County Council by the village council and it is suggested we all contribute towards this. I’ve been assured some will pay tens of thousands, others a portion of their small incomes. Those of us who have little left for coffees and all else each month will try to put in a quid or two.
People on the council are excited. It is said they want to build new houses. I hope I have enough energy to attend the next meeting discussing this issue. The UK government is encouraging new development to meet the country-wide shortage of housing, however, developers naturally want to make as much money as they can, which generally means homes for the wealthy. I hope to argue that in our village a decent percent of the development ought to be put aside for affordable housing.
Several villages, including ours, which surround the attractive Country Park rising behind us, attract people who want second homes or who wish to retire from London or the counties surrounding it. Selling houses 2-6 times the price of equivalent property here, their arrival naturally ups local prices. What I hope doesn’t happen here is happening across the land in pretty villages such as ours. Those with money can see the ample advantages of rural life and new development draws them in, whilst those who have lived here for generations simply can’t afford houses and are forced to move away.
Will those who contribute more to buy this land here assume they have more say than the likes of us who don’t? Or will they follow the example of the neighbouring Community Land Trust, where contributors, no matter the size of their gift, each gain one vote. Another group of riders trot past. They are less remote. Maybe they might vote for more houses for locals.