Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ashton Park – the mother of all land grabs?

There seems to be a depressing familiarity about the arguments for building on nearly 500 hectares of green belt land of which the most common is along the lines of “it’s OK for the NIMBYs in their nice houses complaining about building new homes but what about all those people on the waiting list?”

When it is pointed out that there is a large amount of brown-field space inside the Bristol urban area to build houses if they really are required, they respond that the developers are only interested in building flats and that the need is for family homes. The implication usually linked in with that last comment being that somehow this can only be done on green field sites like Ashton Vale. A view reinforced by the statement in the Evening Post today (10 March 09) by Jonathan Chastney of LandTrust Developments who says that brownfield developments would be “lots of flats rather than family homes”.

Chastney knows full well that the only reason that developers have built flats rather than family homes on brownfield sites is because that is what they have chosen to build. His attempt to portray flats as inevitable is dishonest and an attempt to use moral blackmail on the local community. There is no reason except the greed of developers that brownfield sites need to be developed as flats. This has been proven time and time again by more imaginative developers elsewhere who are not simply locked into a mindset devoted to the mass production of land hungry, low density, community destroying, and energy wasting “machines for living in”.

The truth of the matter is that developers are interested in building properties for sale at the maximum possible profit. They have done their calculations and what their sums tell them is that building on green fields is less costly (to them) than building on brown fields. That, in urban areas, where higher densities are usually required, the easy recourse is to build flats. By building flats not houses in urban areas, it also increases the pressure on local authorities to release the green field sites that provide the greatest opportunity for profit. Pressure that is increased by quangos like the SWRDA, and the interventions of government ministers who, as demonstrated recently by Ben Bradshaw’s comments on the incineration proposal, know little about the local situation.

A property developer has no interest in providing the type of affordable housing that might become available for those who are currently homeless or are on the housing list, but if the council want to subsidise a tiny percentage of the houses built to make them affordable to those on the housing list than they will magnanimously allow them to do so (as long as the percentage is not too high).

However, as in most other commercial situations, the property developers overarching responsibility is to their shareholders not to the local community andthus they are simply doing the job they are paid for. The interests of the local community should be the responsibility of the local authority, and of their local MPs.

Unfortunately, too many local authorities and too many local MPs appear more than willing to put the profits of developers at an higher level than the needs of their residents and allowed developers to build unaffordable flats inside urban areas when affordable houses were needed, and then belatedly protest when developers and regional quangos start to carve out large segments of green field land to build their low density housing.

As a result, the protests of those who have a clearer vision of what this constant encroachment on our open fields entails, and who know from bitter experience that a vast housing development in North Somerset will have little effect on the housing list in Bristol City, in the same way that a large housing development at Bradley Stoke in South Glos also had little effect, will have to fight the battle to stop this development handicapped by the lack of reasonable foresight of their own elected representatives.

Roll on the next election - local and general!


  1. Democracy? What democracy. The whole thing stinks.

  2. Green Belt is in fact prime agricultural land and when under concrete will not be available for food production in the future. God help our children and grandchildren when we are no longer able to import the food we do today. A salutary lesson will have been learnt, but at what a cost.