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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Housebuilding in Kent continues – but do the fields lost in Ashford and Whitstable really spell doom for communities as feared?

There are plans, close to where I live, to build more than 1,000 new homes.

It will spread out across what are currently green fields which sway with crops in the summer and provide paths for idyllic walks in the winter.

Soon this will be housing...but should we stand in the way of others' chance of a home?
Soon this will be housing…but should we stand in the way of others’ chance of a home?

I’ve yet to break it to the dogs that the area they normally get let off the lead to chase their tails and stretch their legs is soon to become yet another housing estate.

It is not an unfamiliar story for many in this fine county of ours.

Our growing population’s insatiable need for housing demands that land a farmer wants to sell is fair game for developers.

Am I sad about it? Of course. Will I oppose it? No.

Because if those homes aren’t going there, then some other town or village nearby will have to accommodate them instead. And someone else will face losing something dear to them too.

Housebuilding doesn’t sit well with many people – but it is necessary
Housebuilding doesn’t sit well with many people – but it is necessary

It’s not like we can simply block all new housebuilding – as much as most of us would want to.

Because while no one wants new homes being built on landscapes which define our local areas, the reality of it is that we need them and who am I to stand before a young couple’s pursuit of happiness together when those of us of a certain vintage had those same opportunities?

When I was young I lived in Ashford for many years. Behind a friend’s house were fields which stretched almost as far as the eye could see. We’d play there; ride our bikes and generally lark around.

Today? Those fields form part of a now long-established, sprawling housing estate. I’m so familiar with the development now that I can almost not equate the view in my mind across those fields of the 1980s with the houses that now sit on that very same land. One day that view locked in my mind will disappear.

When I lived in Whitstable as a young adult, the old Thanet Way approaching the town saw fields dropping down towards the coast. Today – you guessed it – it’s just housing. Lots and lots of them too.

Ashford has changed considerably over the years
Ashford has changed considerably over the years

Do I weep about it? No, frankly, I don’t. I rued both developments at the time, but I soon got used to the new reality. You do don’t you? You forget how things once were. You forget about the loss of views and paths. You adjust. The next generation won’t bat an eyelid about it.

Life goes on. Your life continues and you realise that the new housing didn’t usher in the doom of your community many feared at the time.

It’s always been that way – and will continue to be so.

Every house in which we sit today was once an open field or woodland, uncluttered by buildings, after all. I don’t remember the squirrels, badgers and all other creatures – who, after all, have just as much right to live here as we do – being consulted.

But times change and demands change. I don’t begrudge people the opportunity of a home. Nor should any of us.

I rued the developments at the time, but I soon got used to the new reality

For clarity, I’m certainly not against people putting coherent arguments together as to why developments shouldn’t be on proposed plots of land. Every decision needs to be challenged. But simply saying ‘it will change our village/town’ isn’t enough. It’s easy to say that when you already live in a town or village. Quite another if you’re struggling to find anywhere to live.

Yes, of course, the infrastructure needs to be in place to accommodate the influx of people. But, more often than not, that comes once the homes are built. I’ve yet to see the business model which says ‘let’s build a huge new school/GP surgery/road scheme’ before the development for which it is to serve and benefit from has actually been completed.

The reality is that while I will mourn the loss of those fields near my home, there are plenty more that aren’t going to be paved over. We are all still surrounded by glorious open space in this county. We just need to remember that.

Yes, there’s less of it, but perhaps that is the price we must all pay for living in such a nice part of the world. A place which remains, clearly, so in demand.

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