One of the frequent misconceptions about UKIP is that it is mainly an EU-oriented political body, which although resonating with public concerns, is isolated from some sectors of the electorate. This is not correct, as a perusal of the outline policy documents list a wide spectrum of concerns and issues; far from the madding world of Brussels.
One of the problems which rural areas face, and which triggers sensitivities strong enough to activate an otherwise passive electorate, is building on greenfield sites. The Coalition has sanctioned the automatic presumption for housing developments, and of course has done little to reduce the unprecedentedly rapid rise in population, which is one of the drivers for new housing.
This is a concern which has seen spontaneous action from local residents, either through the formation of ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ which have some degree of control over imposed housing developments, or through pressure groups. In my locality there are two such instances, one with a proposal for 144 greenfield-sited houses in a village with 950 existing houses, and another in a village three miles away for 300 houses, with a mix of greenfield and former industrial premises. Newbuild
In the nearby county of Essex new ‘garden villages’ have been included in a wish list of more than 300 sites put forward by developers in north Essex. Braintree District Council has made public the areas put forward by landowners as part of the authority’s call for sites. This is the first stage in redeveloping the district’s local plan, where land is put forward by anyone who thinks it could be a good location for new homes or businesses. Sites put forward range from single new homes, to whole new garden village settlements.
The housing and brownfield/greenfield issue is not confined to this locality, and other parts of the country face similar issues. In Hampshire, where several greenfield sites in the Havant area have already been developed, Welborne north of Fareham, is set to take 6,500 homes.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the rural population in England will increase by 6 per cent overall by 2025, Telegraph, but in those zones which have been designated as preferred for development as ‘Core’ or ‘Hinterland’, the increase will be larger. The impacts of more traffic through small villages and the need to provide a range of expanded facilities are of concern. It needs political pressure to preserve the greenfield countryside and to remediate areas blighted by decaying installations. There has to be an unbreakable link between the commitment to build new houses and the provision of:
- additional school places
- additional healthcare
- improved transport
- infrastructure: water, sewage, gas, electricity. broadband, mobile coverage
- environmentally clean groundworks
- specific local amenities, riverwalks, open spaces, sports grounds
- the developments to follow identifiable demand, not speculation
- If we are going to have ‘presumption in favour of development’, which has been the case with successive governments, then we also should have presumption that the above list addressing the views of the locality, is automatically included.
UKIP has some attractive policies, particularly in regard to putting a housing proposal to a referendum of the people concerned. The proposed new sites, and there are very many across the country, represent a very good opportunity for UKIP to gain easy votes. A video or photo of a politician standing in an attractive rural location under threat of becoming a building site is an easy publicity gain.
If UKIP aligns itself positively and sympathetically with such protests we can also achieve a new image, that of a party willing to back up local wishes against intrusive planning. In fact, a party more in common with the electorate on rural issues than the currently development-obsessed Conservatives.