Yesterday’s announcement from the Department for Communities and Local Government lowered the required majority of support for a Community Right to Build project from 90% to 75%. This is surely a move in the right direction for those keen to see the initiative implemented in something like the form originally envisaged…but gaining 75% support is still a formidable task.
By rural standards, I’m a bit of a ‘townie’ – I live very near the centre of a large market town – so I can’t really claim to understand what makes a village tick, but extrapolating from my knowledge of town politics (in the loosest sense) I imagine villages being made up of long-standing residents and later ‘new-comers’… and these two constituencies may well have very different views about what is ‘wrong’ with their village.
I imagine that for the longer-standing residents affordable housing may be the crunch issue; the late-comers, commuting to large salaries in a nearby town or city, are pushing up house prices beyond what can be afforded by those who depend on the land and local rural businesses for their livelihood. Maybe the born-and-bred contingent have got used to there not being a shop in the village (in Norfolk, many of them died long ago), and don’t really miss it, provided the pub keeps going! And they are probably reliant on long-established friendships for their sense of well-being. I imagine it is the new-comers who will be really keen on the idea of the village shop as the social hub of the village – a second opportunity, after the school gates, for casual social interaction. They have probably chosen a village setting for their commuter life-style in preference to a cramped modern estate, and the village shop is emblematic of the ‘village life’ that would complete their picture of a rural idyll.
Of course there will be plenty of longer-standing residents who bitterly regret the shop closing, and surely plenty of new-comers will have decided where to live for very pragmatic reasons (pretty cottage, big garden, three parking spaces); so they may be profoundly disinterested in ‘village life’, whatever that is. And there will be plenty of shades of grey layered over my crude stereotypes…
…which all makes the process of gathering even 75% support look pretty daunting. The CRTB-promoter should not take as self-evident the notion that ‘affordable housing’ is a good thing (for many it is quite the opposite) or that a shop or pub is an essential facility in a village. The key will be to establish as many different points of view and imagine what ‘sells’ the CRTB project to each. By comparison the property-development component of the project might actually be rather straightforward!