Tory MP condomns ‘Planning Anarchy’ as Houses ‘plonked down from above’ by Appeal

Guardian- we covered Hook Norton last week

It is a quintessentially English village, nestled in the Cotswolds, where David Cameron‘s favourite real ale has been brewed since 1849. Hook Norton, five miles from the comparatively bustling Chipping Norton, where the prime minister has spent many happy weekends, is a quiet place, home to 2,000 souls. But unwelcome change is in the air, and an enormous row is brewing, one with seismic implications for a Tory party accused of losing touch with its own grassroots.

On Tuesday Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, signed off on a splurge of planning applications in the area which, combined with other plans, will increase the size of Hook Norton alone by more than 10%.

Two large fields, currently home to a few cows and a footpath or two, are to make way for 70 homes, car parking, a pumping station and other ancillary works. In making the decision, overturning a ruling by Cherwell district council to block the development, Pickles has thrown what was a quiet village into tumult, with campaigners venting their anger. “It’s got quite nasty,” said one villager seemingly too fearful to give her name.

The ill-feeling that has ensued is likely to be repeated across the country as both the Conservatives and Labour commit to huge housebuilding programmes. In Hook Norton, Tom and Gloria Williams own the two fields set for development and a shop on the high street.

Their shop used to be popular, but it was relatively empty on Friday, as many locals have taken their business elsewhere. Village talk that the couple are set to enjoy a £5m windfall by selling their green fields to FTSE 250-listed building company Taylor Wimpey does not help their cause. Down the hill, the great-great grandson of the founder of Hook Norton brewery, its managing director, James Clarke, is also in the line of fire after daring to voice his support for the new homes on the village’s Facebook page.

“It’s a shame that it has got personal,” he told the Observer, sitting at his desk in the brewery. “One of the members of the parish council complained that my view was biased because my mother owns a field on the edge of the village. It’s got nothing to do with it. We have seen villages that have died around here because they haven’t grown.”

The prime minister has inevitably been drawn into the row. Cameron, MP for Witney, whose constituency home in the Oxfordshire village of Dean is less than 10 miles from Hook Norton, has not been protected by his enthusiastic patronage of Hooky and Hooky Mild brews.

“If he wants homes, why not build them where he lives?” grumbled one female resident who declined to be named. Jem Hayward, a parish councillor who has lived in Hook Norton for 28 years, added, with no little mischief: “I wouldn’t build in Dean, that would make even less sense. But if I was a developer Witney town might make be a good place.”

Some in Hook Norton dismiss the row as another example of rural nimbyism. The south-east of England alone is facing a shortfall of 44,000 homes over the next five years. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes that Britain is heading for a property shortage of more than a million homes by 2022. But Emma Kane, an internet consultant, mother of two children in the local primary school and chair of the parish council, said the country should wake and up and listen to what is happening in Hook Norton.

She regrets that things have turned poisonous in places and, unlike some, she hastens to add, she is not shunning the village shop. But Kane believes in the campaign to stop the development and says that others across the country should recognise the precedent Pickles has set as being dangerously anti-democratic. More than nine out of 10 villagers who responded to the proposals objected. But local feeling has, she said, been dismissed out of hand as the government blindly seeks to deliver on its promises of more homes.

Pickles was able to overturn Cherwell’s decision because the council only had a draft five-year plan for the area, a predicament shared by 198 other planning authorities which have failed to swiftly come up with plans to fit the coalition’s new planning policies, and are therefore seen as lacking the drive to build more homes. For all the talk of localism, building homes and stimulating the economy are now the watchwords of this administration.

“I have lived in the village for 10 years and there were various attempts before and since I moved here to get planning permission on these fields that have been owned by a local family,” Kane said. “Taylor Wimpey saw an opening and have rushed ahead to get planning permission on these fields without any consultation.

“There has been quite a lot of development in the last 20 years and people have been starting to get upset. The village can get very congested just driving through, the primary school is full because it is pretty good; there is something like 34 in one class.

“We have had meetings where 300 people have turned up to object, but have been ignored all the way along. David Cameron said this wouldn’t happen, this plonking down from above. He lives 10 miles away. Yet this is exactly what is happening.

Local MP Tony Baldry, who is usually one of the prime minister’s loyal acolytes, is equally perplexed: “This is planning anarchy. My frustration, disappointment and indeed anger is that what has happened runs counter to what everyone assumed would happen. Up and down the country people will be asking what this decision means for them.”

Cameron would be well advised not to turn up for a pint of Hooky Mild any time in the near future.