Anger over Government house-building plans at Whitchurch meeting

Residents angry at government proposals to build 9,500 new homes in the Whitchurch area packed a public meeting in on Friday night. The meeting, organised by local Conservatives, was chaired by Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-mogg and was attended by Whitchurch Councillor Peter Edwards and B&NES Conservative leader Cllr Francine Haeberling.

Local Conservatives have strongly criticised the proposals to increase the housing target in the area, describing it as “unacceptable and undesirable”. Conservatives argue that while more affordable housing is required and more homes need to be built for the region to prosper, the lack of consultation or plans for improved infrastructure is utterly unrealistic. Local residents expressed their horror at the prospect of 9.500 homes in the Whithcurch area, much of which in Greenbelt land, and Keynsham residents said they were very concerned that plans for 3,000 more homes there could mean they are swallowed up by Bristol.

At the meeting Jacob Rees-Mogg pledged that the Labour government’s plans to build 21,300 houses in Whitchurch, Keynsham, and in and around Bath would be overturned if the Conservatives were returned to power at the next General Election. Residents at the meeting welcomed his statement that a Conservative government would be committed to the principles of the Greenbelt and would consult communities on the most appropriate locations for development. He said the only way of securing sensible housing targets and protecting Greenbelt was by voting Conservative at the next election.

At the meeting Conservative leader in B&NES Cllr Francine Haeberling said:

“We have come out very strongly against these proposals as we see them as damaging to the region. We negotiated with the government to try to reach an acceptable level of development, but they have simply increased their demands. Local people must have a say; you cannot decide where to build homes by sitting in Whitehall and sticking a pin on a map.

“Apart from the irreparable damage to out Greenbelt, my biggest concern is the total lack of planning for improved infrastructure. In both Whitchurch, Keynsham, and in the urban extension to Bath much more work would need to be done on improving transport and public services if thousands more homes are to be built. Yet the government’s proposals fail to detail any of this.”

Conservative Councillor for Whitchurch Peter Edwards also commented:

“The Whitchurch area would be unrecognisable as it is today if these plans go ahead. The beautiful green surroundings would be gone and our roads would be at a stand-still. The government’s projections for job growth are better than they were during the good economic times, yet they can’t explain where these jobs would come from.

“It is of course crucial for people to be able to afford to own their own homes, but bricks and mortar do not make a community; you need services, jobs and infrastructure or no one will want to live there anyway.

“We were willing to plan for the originally proposed numbers and try and find the best locations, but these increased figures are simply irrational and we will send a strong message to government following this meeting.”