The boom years under Labour’s hapless stewardship of the economy turned everybody into property speculators. It created a false sense of wealth which resulted in a scramble for land and everybody jumped on the property bandwagon including some surprising characters.
In their midst was the otherwise respectable National Trust. The National Trust is one of the UK’s largest land owners, and it is no surprise that as the value of land rose directors saw huge pound signs flickering in front of their eyes.
During the boom years affordability became an issue in poor as well as affluent areas. It was the case in the Cheshire and Warrington area, even though they enjoy one of the highest GVA in the whole of the UK, £17,650 in the Cheshire County Council area and £19,800 in the Halton & Warrington area, while In 2005, GVA per head was £13,800 in NE Wales. Cheshire needed housing, but not in Cheshire because it was too expensive and they valued their green belt land. The National Trust had land aplenty in a prime development area, Erddig. The Trust developed plans to build hundreds of homes on its lands in Erddig, Rhostyllen, against the wishes of the local community and against the wishes of the previous land owner, who donated it to the Trust in order to protect the landscape.
Since then a statutory regional spatial plan has been developed for north east Wales with the National Assembly insisting on cross border cooperation. I’m not against cross border cooperation as people from across north Wales depend on numerous services in north west England. Cooperation can only be a good thing. But the net result of the Regional Spatial Plan seems to be business investment on the English side of the border and the development of thousands of houses on the Welsh side. The question must be asked who are these homes for? There is certainly no demand in the north east Wales region for the amount of houses that are currently in the offing.
Some have called it a land grab, others have compared it with the Irish plantations of the C17. Whatever the motivation behind these plans it is clear that developing on such a huge scale, against the wishes of local communities, and with seemingly no consideration to identity, culture, and language let alone the development of vital services and infrastructure that would be necessary to support such a vast housing project is not in the interests of the region.
These houses will not be affordable to young local families. But they will be affordable to wealthier professionals from across the border, with the added value of being on the doorstep of some of the most spectacular landscape in Europe.
The financial collapse should have put an end to speculative developments such as Erddig. However while house prices are said to be falling, the prices continue to be remarkably high, and way beyond the affordability of local people.
While we continue to ask for inflated prices, seemingly stuck in the mentality of get rich quick through a house sale or simply desperate not to fall into negative equity, Wales, and especially the north east, will still be an attractive proposition to housing developers.
But what to do about the Spatial Plan? This is entirely a political decision, born out of an agreement between Local Authorities and their partnership, the Mersey Dee Alliance. This is something that we should be able to have direct influence on, and should be our choice based on the needs of the community at large, irrespective of any financial gains, which will only be made by a few land owners and a select group of developers.
If you, like me, are concerned about these developments then we need to lobby our politicians and political bodies to draw their attention to the folly of such large scale developments.
If I’m fortunate enough to become an AM following the elections in May next year then I will argue against these developments. But in the mean time we have several AMs who are standing idly by doing nothing and caring less. Contact them. Visit their surgeries (information should be in the local press or on their websites).
We cannot allow these developments to go on unchallenged. Communities need to grow and develop naturally and we do need investment in our communities, and we need new houses. But this needs to be done with thorough and transparent consultation and consent from the communities themselves, based on their needs – not to satisfy the needs of a thriving Cheshire economy.