How to CRTB # 5 – Two Farmers and a Wedding.

I was at a wedding in Suffolk this weekend, and had interesting conversations with two farmers. After dissecting the impact that the Russian harvest was having on domestic grain prices, and the merits and demerits of forward-selling commodities, I raised with each the subject of the Community Right to Build. Neither had heard of it, but both were naturally intrigued. And both were highly sceptical. One had a very instructive anecdote to share…

In his village (which shall remain nameless) the neighbouring farmer owned a field, opposite the village green but just outside the development boundary. The village hall, at the other end of the village was in desperate need of repair, and also struggling on its tiny plot to provide adequate parking. The farmer proposed to donate a plot of land on his field for the construction of a new village hall, facing the green (useful for the village fete, bonfire night, etc) and with enough room for ample parking. Around the new hall he would build six houses. The land occupied by the old village hall could be sold off by the Village Hall Trustees, and the development profit from the three houses it would accommodate would be enough to pay for the construction of the new hall. The farmer would get a nice little development project, and the village would get a shiny new village hall with plenty of parking, right opposite the village green. It sounded almost too good to be true.

And indeed it was. The Parish Council took against the idea and refused to support it, so the plan stalled. The Village Hall Committee set to raising funds to re-build the hall on its existing site, and eventually managed to secure the money, in several chunks. The second phase of the re-build is nearly complete, but the village was without the hall for a year, and the new building will still have too little parking and be in the wrong place. And the farmer didn’t get his development.

‘What went wrong?’ I asked the chap recounting this sorry tale. His first response was depressing: ‘People don’t like to see others getting on, do they?’. He went on to observe, mischievously perhaps, that two Parish Councilors had homes facing the green and didn’t like the idea of closing in their view. ‘Did your neighbour do much work on sweetening people up,’ I asked, ‘going round and ‘tapping people up’, one by one?’. He hadn’t, it seems. Presumably he had thought, not unreasonably perhaps, that such a brilliant idea would sell itself.

It didn’t!

PS: For a more optimistic story see ‘75% Support? Impossible, surely…’

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2 Responses to How to CRTB # 5 – Two Farmers and a Wedding.

  1. John says:

    This anecdote really resonated with me!

    I’ve always had reservations about the chances of any community actually meeting the conditions of CRTB, and not only the 75% rule. This example brings out some useful points:

    1 The attitude of the parish council in a small rural community is likely to be conservative and averse to change. The councillors will often have been elected to ensure that things stay as they are. Indeed, quite often they won’t have been elected at all but been returned unopposed, and some will have served for thirty years or more. Change initiated by smart, affluent young incomers in a hurry may be particularly unpopular.

    2 Neighbour objections to planning applications seem to be more and more common nowadays, and this may be particularly so if a new development in a small rural community is likely to be very noticeable, and if it intrudes on the environment of long-standing residents.

    3 Power and influence will probably be in the hands of a few key people – parish councillors, wealthy residents, local farmers and landowners, often with vested interests.

    4 Timing is always difficult. Opportunities can occur at any time, but can’t always be tied in with the availability of funds, statutory approvals, established community plans or special consultation exercises.

    5 There is likely to be widespread resentment of anyone who might do well out a scheme, and suspicion of the motives of others who won’t derive obvious benefit but who are actively supporting it.

    Surprisingly, perhaps, such obstacles can be evercome and examples are regularly reported in the local media. But nobody should underestimate the amount of prior consultation required, or the time and effort this will take.

    I write with fifteen years’ experience as a parish councillor and community champion, and many more years observing community activities through conversations and media reports in Norfolk and Suffolk. I don’t think other shire counties are very different.

  2. ruralise says:

    Thanks for your thoughts John. Especially the more positive note at the end!

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