Euan Trower is an A-level student from Devon.
England is dying. Villages are deserted: the houses bought up as holiday businesses which sit empty for most of the year, driving local people to the fringes where property is cheaper. Pubs, shops, schools, churches, garages – all closed down. Farmers’ barns converted into luxury apartments, unaffordable for anyone local. Houses once owned by the council are now being done up and sold for nearly half a million pounds. The buying up of property by people looking for “a slice of country life” is killing off the very thing that motivated these people to move in the first place.
Small mediaeval towns are surrounded by development, surges in population placing immense strain on local infrastructure, whilst the surrounding countryside becomes enveloped in the concrete of poorly-built developments. The sense of community in these places is being lost, diluted by an influx of people employed outside the local area.
As a young person living in Devon, I’ve seen this destruction at first-hand, and I’m determined to play my part in putting an end to it.
There’s no doubt that there is a housing crisis, but the response from not just the Conservatives but all the major parties is heavy-handed, poorly thought out and destructive. A local example is a development close to where I live. Over 200 homes have been built, with the only piece of infrastructure a mini-roundabout. Developments such as these, and larger, are scheduled all over Devon and across the rest of the country, and their effects will be catastrophic.
But it’s not too late. We still have time to change direction before irreversible damage is done to our villages and towns. More houses need to be built, but the way in which we develop land needs to change fundamentally. Rather than large-scale construction by national companies, small, local construction firms need to be encouraged to build smaller, affordable developments which complement the local area. This idea is best put in Robert Courts’s recent article on this site. As he said: “A small builder is likely to be a local builder. They, too, will care about their local area.”
Development should be focused on quality, not quantity. Small scale developments soon add up, if practiced across the whole country. Five to ten houses in every village would minimise the strain on small and vulnerable communities, while any social housing incorporated into the development would maintain the community’s diversity by making t hese new properties accessible to everyone.In particular, the introduction of affordable housing into villages would bring back much-needed young people to make use of facilities such as nurseries and schools, keeping them open, while also bringing in more people to make use of local pubs and churches, thus protecting a staple element of English culture. But this alone is not enough.
A policy of small-scale house building must be combined with the establishment of a more tenant-friendly renting sector and an end to the holiday home scandal which is crippling small communities. While I’m opposed to needless state intervention, government does in this case need to step in, and introduce caps on rent in certain areas in order to uphold the diversity of communities in certain areas, and prevent particular groups being priced out of their local area. They also need to improve the conditions in some of these properties. The 72 MPs who voted down the Habitable Homes Bill haven’t done the Party, or the country, any favours.
With regard to holiday homes, policies such as the banning of new builds becoming holiday lets, voted for by the people of St Ives in their referendum in 2016, are a fantastic start, but more must be done. Loopholes which allow holiday let owners to avoid paying both council tax and business rates must be closed: there are claims that doing so could bring in an extra £10 million pounds a year. In Cornwall alone, there are 20,000 holiday lets, with 6,000 of them exploiting this loophole.
While some may argue that this article would be better suited on a Labour Party site, to me the idea of protecting ways of life from going extinct is as Conservative as it gets. People laugh at the idea of little England as harping back to a glorified past. They conjure up images of cricket on the village green, with tea and cake, dismissing it as a bygone relic of a dead era. But I assure you, little England lives – for how much longer I’m not sure, but it’s still there, and it involves people from every class and culture.
The Conservative Party is the dominant force within these vulnerable communities, so it’s up to it to protect these them from erosion and disintegration. Labour is traditionally a party for the urban proletariat and so, inevitably, it has a more hostile attitude towards the world I talk about, which is why the Conservatives must become the vanguard party in the protection of England’s towns and villages.