At the Charfield Parish meeting yesterday evening, sadly, a mere handful of the two thousand residents turned out to discuss matters appertaining to their village. That so few turned out is perhaps a statement of how powerless residents feel at the madly unsustainable proposals for our small rural commuter village, nestled between north Bristol and Stroud on the very border between South Gloucestershire (and now the whole West of England Combined Authority) and Gloucestershire. And yet apathy offers no solution, and simply presents no resistance to development plans that would double the number of homes and double the number of cars, but which in no way address the resulting congestion or the dearth of facilities such as schooling, medical or employment.
Some of those who attended thought that the Charfield Neighbourhood Plan team were a pressure group, fighting against the “thousand houses” presented in the JSP, and the meeting discussed this and reiterated that not only was the Neighbourhood Plan project not a protest or lobby group, it was prevented in law from being one. And while the Parish Council has spoken often and with strength against the dumping of masses of unsupported and unsustainable homes onto the locality, they were not a protest group either. Someone suggested someone should do something, and it is clear that if we are to make any headway against the implementation of an unsustainable policy we do need to take the fight to the West of England Combined Authority and to South Gloucestershire Council. Who will do this thing?
Is there energy within the village to put a protest and lobby group together, and to put forward at every opportunity the case why Charfield cannot take this amount of development without significant (and I mean significant) infrastructure investment? In truth there’s not a lot that can be done in terms of the road system; although Highways England now admit the M5 junction 14 is not simply at capacity but unfit for purpose, it can be redesigned and rebuilt. How though to improve the B-roads and unlisted country lanes we all rely on? How will they cope with thousands more cars at the rush hours? They can’t reasonably be widened. And even if the station were to be reopened (always mentioned, never done) that would only take a very small amount of traffic off the local roads.
Who thinks they can pull this off? I feel certain that if someone starts a lobby group and a protest fund then it will gain support, even from those who support from behind their front doors. But who would join such a group? If such a group were to be created, who would come to hear from other protest groups like Keep Kingswood A Village, or the Falfield Action Group about how things can be changed by the village for the village? If people said they’d come I’m sure the meeting would happen, and if it happened would you come? Alternatively, shall we just relax and let it happen? After all, that’s easier, yeah? Well no, not really.
If a ‘defence force’ were established I imagine it would have a Terms of Reference to outline it’s purpose and ways of working. I imagine it would focus on identifying and evidencing the many reasons why a doubling of the size of Charfield not only is not but cannot be made sustainable; reasons which would include the geography and the inadequate minor road network, the lack of plans and investment on the national road network either in the JSP or from Highways England, the dearth of capacity in our medical facilities and the lack of any expectation of improvement, the emergency services response rates and how response times in a larger village would far further behind national targets… there are many points where even sound financial investment would not mitigate over development, and in these times… well.
As I complete and post this personal commentary I’ve already been contacted by one person willing to pick up the gauntlet. So now it’s a matter of numbers. Are there people out there that care enough…? To put words into action? If not then fine. As someone said yesterday, some of us won’t be around in twenty years time. But you know, our children and grandchildren will. And don’t we want to let them enjoy the fantastic life we’ve had in Charfield? Of course we do.