I’LL be honest, it’s rare that the work of Wycombe District Council (or any council, for that matter) comes remotely close to putting me in mind of an edge-of-the-seat Hollywood thriller.
But a sharp exchange of dialogue from the cracking 2012 film Argo popped into my head this week when reading reports of the latest round of Local Plan meetings.
“You don’t have a better bad idea than this?” demands a CIA bigwig when he hears the agency’s bizarre bid to rescue some US embassy workers trapped in Iran during the 1970s. “This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far,” comes his department chief’s jaded reply.
As far as I can tell, so far no outraged Slate Meadow campaigners have kidnapped any WDC planning officers, nor have any of the angry Gomm Valley residents stormed and besieged the council offices until their demands are met.
Possible acts of residents’ dissent notwithstanding, for many the Local Plan – now needing to accommodate 500-700 homes per year in the district over a five year period (probably longer) – is ultimately going to be about finding the best bad idea possible for the district.
Right at the start of the consultation process, the council made the point that if it doesn’t do something to manage development of thousands upon thousands of houses in the district, someone else will. Take Aylesbury Vale District Council – its own local plan was rejected, leaving developers free to submit their own proposals, potentially with even less consideration for local concerns.
Quite understandably, no one wants a major housing development in their backyard and most people think they have better ideas of where to plonk these new homes. Which will, I suspect, lead to an endless game of Nimby ping-pong that still won’t please everyone.
One thing we all agree on about living in Bucks is that its abundance of greenery is a great thing.
To be so close to London, to have plenty of well-developed town centres and for most of us to be just a few minutes from the countryside are great benefits to living here – among the few things that make the bitter pill of our over-inflated property prices slightly (only slightly, mind) easier to swallow. The thought of concreting over sections of that space – green belt or reserve site – to make way for housing may be awful, but at this point it also seems inevitable.
The fact is, too many people are living here. Without more housing stock, youngsters today, much less tomorrow’s generation, have no chance of getting on the housing ladder, ever.
And it could be that our culture will have to shift to one that favours renting – to people in their 20s the thought of owning a home must already seem like a quaint notion from yesteryear, like dial-up internet or penny-farthing bicycles. A sharp contrast with residents who have lived here for decades, having bought their homes relatively cheaply and seen values skyrocket.
This isn’t to say that anyone should be rolling over and letting WDC do what it wants – there are serious problems with many of the sites earmarked for possible development. And where will it end? In 50 years’ time we may well be concreting over the ocean at this rate.
But, still, the onslaught of housing development seems unavoidable – regardless of who’s in No.10, claims council leader Richard Scott.
Ideally, of course, we would keep our green and pleasant Bucks the way it is, and let somewhere else build all this pesky housing. Sadly, reality is dictating that is not an option.
So, with that in mind, we may all have to work to grudgingly settle for a good bad idea that can save us from all the even worse ones.