Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Odd I’m not on committees or invited to local dinner parties
- Credit: PA
Every so often, especially in February, after the seasonal charm of an Essex winter has evaporated, I’ll audit my happiness accounts. Far from being able to give a wry, sideways look at local news, I find myself forced to be brutally honest.
One thing preoccupying many people in my immediate environs is the fact that “They” want to build something in the order of 9,000 new houses.
This project would take place within the next few years, just outside Colchester, on some fields quite near to where I live, actually.
“They”, of course, might be taken to mean various developers, regional authorities, and, more distantly, our rulers in Londonshire.
Naturally “We” don’t want them to do it. Not, at least, unless most of the houses are “affordable”, with developers pledging to also “deliver” a reasonable “infrastructure”.
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That we also demand “transparency” goes without saying. I thought it important to use the word at least once, since it’s currently so popular with experts talking flannel on local forums.
By “We” I mean the people most likely to be affected by the building of 9,000 new houses on any nearby countryside. “We” also includes many of the people who have moved to this region from the London area during the past two decades and who, having created a semi-rural La-la Land for themselves, now don’t want other people coming here (going forwards) doing the same thing.
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It’s only fair to say, however, that it’s not only these relative newcomers who object to developments. There are others. You have to remember that some of us have been here for so long we can remember the villagers moving out – and stop laughing at the back.
I daresay the original inhabitants weren’t particularly chuffed, either, when a bunch of furry-looking people from “That University” arrived in the early 1970s with their stripped pine furniture, cheesecloth shirts and Richard Brautigan novels. So now it’s payback time, Buddy.
My own long experience of battles between what “They” want to do and what “We” want is that “They” almost always win.
This is usually because “They” have the money, the know-how, the legal sophistry and the ruthlessness required.
Oh and “They” are full-time, whereas “We” are usually cash-strapped part-timers and therefore able to engage in combat only at weekends or on weekday nights, after a knackering day in London. It does seem unfair, however, that a big business operation can propose visiting a developmental atrocity on a place whilst the onus is upon that place’s inhabitants to prove it wouldn’t work, rather than upon the invaders to prove it might.
I have spent about 50 years studying this. So far as north Essex is concerned, I’ve watched a lot of perfectly good amenities, services, jobs, buildings and rural delights being wrecked, disassembled, sold, demolished or changed for the worse. How would I sum it up? Like this: TDWTBWW or They-do-what-they-bloody-well-want.
Therefore, whenever anyone asks me to lend my shoulder to the wheel of protest, which usually means attending some fearsomely-long and pedantic meeting, I refuse.
“There are tried and trusted ways of stopping these developments,” I tell them. “Really?” asks a weary objector.
Yes, I say, explaining you must first find the addresses of some of the key bosses of the development project.
“And then...?” I go through the usual stuff: the specific threats, the kidnapped wife or exotic mistress, the favourite racehorse left dead on an executive lawn.
“You are joking, of course?” asks the startled objector, studying my face intently for some tell-tale flicker. “Oh no,” I’ll reply. “It does work. It’s just a bit... illegal, that’s all. But then, ‘They’ never mind bending the rules, do they?”
After observing 50 years of TDWTBWW in my area, here’s what I’ve learned. There are far too many cars on our roads.
There are insufficient hospitals and schools. A drinks-led night economy seems to have taken precedence over the old day economy.
Increasing numbers of homeless men are observed in shop doorways in scabrous-looking bedding.
Many shops are closed or about to close, while new restaurants and pie providers open daily, to feed a populace many of whom are already familiar with the shortest route to the cake shop.
Should I be concerned? Not if everyone else thinks that it’s acceptable.
I’m obviously in a tiny minority here.