Villages don’t all need to have basic facilities to make them worth living in
Last week we received a report snappily-entitled “Fossilised Villages” from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) looking at the plight of communities where services had diminished as populations fell.
The key demand underpinning this was that planning rules in many of these villages should be relaxed to allow more homes to be built and more services to return to them.
The cynic in me was left asking myself who would benefit most from these new homes – and then looking at the name of the organisation that commissioned the report!
However putting the eye-catching title of the report to one side, was there really anything here that was new? It looked to me like a rehash of concerns I’ve heard ever since I started in this profession nearly 40 years ago . . . and even longer ago than that!
I remember as a child hearing that the village I was born in was being killed because its shop was closing. That was just before my family moved to the metropolis of Saxmundham in 1965!
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Eastbridge is still there. It’s not even on the CLA’s list of Fossilised villages. I suspect that’s because of the continued popularity of the Eel’s Foot pub.
And the fact is that I wonder whether the people who choose to live in the remotest villages in our region really want them to grow and get more services on their doorstep.
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They might not like to admit it publicly, but I suspect many people who choose to live in places like Tostock, Linstead, or Santon Downham are quite happy with the fact they have to get in their car to take the children to school, get to the shops for something even as basic as a bottle of milk, or get to the nearest pub.
There aren’t “affordable” homes in many of these places because you can’t live there without some expensive kit – basically you need to drive a car – because you have nothing on your doorstep.
But some people like that. They want to “get away from it all” when they get home (or stay at their holiday home). They don’t want to become part of a community.
There are other villages – that are on a main road or rail line, that hung on to basic services in the 60s and 70s that now find themselves as unwelcome targets of expansion.
Because of family ties I know part of north Suffolk quite well. The village of Fressingfield, where relations lived while I was growing up, still has a school, popular pubs, a village shop, and three churches.
It is fighting plans for many more homes that have been proposed there because it is a genuinely thriving, active village. Expansion would inevitably change its character.
But nearby villages like Mendham and Metfield have been classed as “Fossilised” because they don’t have the facilities that Fressingfield has – and have no likelihood of getting them.
But that has been the case since the end of the Second World War when villages ceased to be self-contained communities serving the local farms and became the homes of professionals who were happy to drive a few miles to their work.
And if you’re driving from Tostock to Ipswich for work, you probably won’t mind driving to Stowmarket or Bury St Edmunds for your shopping!
Rather than looking at trying to expand all villages, it makes much more sense to look at building up those communities that already have something to develop.
Given its relatively poor road links, I’m not sure Fressingfield is in a particularly good place for expansion – but villages like Thurston, Elmswell and Capel St Mary are ideally placed to grow.
And when you look at changes to small towns, is it really any surprise that places like Stowmarket and Saxmundham have seen faster growth than other communities over the last half century compared with places that are further from major road and rail lines?
Personally having been born in a small village and brought up in a slightly larger community, I’ve been happy to live in Ipswich for the last 30 years with all the facilities I really need on our back doorstep.
If I ever move away from Ipswich it will be to a smaller town with its own facilities like shops, pubs, a railway station and some entertainment like theatre or cinema.
But some like the isolation of a small rural village where everything is a car journey away. If that’s what you want, fine. But for anyone to suggest every village has to be self-sufficient is unrealistic in the 21st century.