One of the biggest bonuses of my job is that three days a week I drive through Somerset, sometimes visiting its many attractions. I am a south-sider in Bristol terms and used to travel to Somerset quite a lot, usually to visit its gorgeous pubs, almost all of which appear to be still standing, albeit many have become ersatz restaurants that serve beer. Inevitable, I guess, and not the worst news in the world, but there is one thing I notice just about everywhere and that’s new building on fields which to many of the people who live there is the worst news in the world.
Living in South Gloucestershire, as we have done since 1992, means I am no stranger to building on green fields. When we moved to our house we had a farm at the back and now we have a modern estate. Soon, nearby Harry Stoke will be paved over in its entirety, as will the airfield at Filton, which is admittedly a brown field development. And soon we may not be able to breathe.
I will not insult individual Somerset towns and villages because I have to go to some of them tomorrow and the day after but some are either on the verge of being ruined or have been ruined already. One town I go to regularly has next to nothing by way of facilities and shops, but plenty of random houses and flats that may have been designed by a drunk. Other pretty villages have been similarly defaced by hideous modern development that have all but ruined their character. It is a terrible shame.
I have met no one who approves of the developments that are springing up almost everywhere, although most people accept the need for more housing. The perception is of farmers flogging off their excess land to become instant millionaires. I don’t think they’re that far out. People also feel powerless. I spoke to one woman whose blissful view across the fields has been replaced by concrete mixers and cranes. Every single person in her village objected to the scheme and the council ignored every single person. As with so many aspects of modern life, ordinary people feel they have no say in anything whether that is in running the country or deciding on planning applications. We live in a democracy where we have no say about anything at all. What kind of democracy is that?
Somerset is far from being completely paved over, but it’s changing slowly but surely. It remains a hugely underrated place, for sure, but the planners and the local politicians are strangling the life out of it.
I doubt that everywhere else in Britain that things are much different. What is happening in Somerset is probably happening everywhere and it’s a depressing thought. It’s still lovely to drive through most of it, but there are more “What the hell is that monstrosity?” moments than ever before. In some places, it’s becoming hard to find anything nice to look at, but I promised not to name names, not even Radstock.