Land News

Stevenage resigned to massive influx

Guardian, 15th October, 2004

There's a sense of resignation on the old-town side of Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

Development, locals know, is inevitable, but that does not mean they court it.

With news revealed in the Guardian yesterday that 500,000 new homes would be built in the east of England as part of John Prescott's new housing development plans, local fears grew about the effects on local wildlife and the water system.

But more than anything, it was knowing the green belt would be heavily impinged upon, and in some places disappear altogether, that caused concern.

Villages throughout Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire were coming to terms with news which for years they have suspected was not far away.

They worry that the village appeal created by Tudor houses, sloping cemeteries and historic churches will be swamped by overdevelopment. According to documents obtained by the Guardian, in Stevenage alone there will be an estimated 6,400 houses built in the next 21 years.

JP Cleverly, who lives on the outskirts of Stevenage, near Hitchin, says his area is one on which he knows the development will have an impact.

"It's all just going to be swallowed up, isn't it?" he says, referring to the green belt.

"I just think about the fields where I live and I think where are the bloody rivers going to run? And the wildlife, what is going to happen there?

"The wildlife is part of our country and if you do away with that out here you have nothing left. It's all about people just making money, that's all it is."

Douglas Moulding said that over the last two years the threat of redevelopment had been imminent, and something locals had fought against initially but had gradually learned to accept.

"It's just terrible, and over the past two years we have seen it come closer and closer," he said. "I really don't know how the green belt area of the town is going to cope with this news. I think there's a lot more brown sites which they could have used and I'm really sorry that the green belt is going to suffer because of this."

While many locals acknowledged that the effect on the local economy of the development would be good for the future of their children, and possibly lead to improved hospitals and schools, there was still overwhelming resistance, which mostly stemmed from concerns about the environment.

Roger Millard has lived in Stevenage since 1958. Much of his family lives there and he has worked in the town for most of his life. He is concerned that the local infrastructure will not be able to cope with the development onslaught.

"The bypass here can't cope with traffic at the moment, and that will obviously get worse and worse as more people arrive," he said. "In a way it is inevitable there would be development on the scale which is proposed, but if there was less immigration, and less broken families, maybe we wouldn't need as many new homes."

Mr Millard, 68, said he hoped it would bring new business into the town, but transport would need to be improved.

"The trains are already at bursting point back into the city," he said. "But it is a difficult situation, people saying they don't want redevelopment, because if there wasn't redevelopment in the first place then I wouldn't have my home here.

"So in a way it is a bit naughty of us who have homes here to say we don't want others coming in. It's hypocritical then, isn't it?"

In Broxbourne, another area flagged for extensive redevelopment, the high street is already filled with traffic and residents are concerned about how they will cope under the strain of a reported 5,100 additional homes being built between 2001 and 2021.

A local estate agent, John Moore, realises his business will benefit but, as a passionate local, he can also see how development is ruining the town.

"It's very difficult to say as a local estate agent, as redevelopment is good for business," he said. "But I have lived here for the best part of 30 years and we are suffering."

The population of 9,000 already had problems getting around on the roads, he said, and important parts of the community, such as a local school, were being lost to redevelopment.

"Broxbourne is a very small place and I don't believe we have the capacity for another 5,000 homes. Broxbourne is under threat, and I do feel threatened by it.

"We will just become part of the north London overspill."

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