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GOSSIP TAKES A BACK SEAT IN HOUSING DEBATE

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The way we build is changing village life, the top official of the government's advisory body, the Countryside Comm...
The way we build is changing village life, the top official of the government's advisory body, the Countryside Commission, warned today.

'Under current policy, we are in danger of turning villages into polarised combinations of executive closes and social housing,' said Richard Wakeford, chief executive of the commission.

Mr Wakeford was speaking at the Royal Town Planning Institute's housing debate: A Roof Too Far? which considered the implications of the Government's projected need for 4.4 million new households over the next 20 years.

Of the need for a balance in the type of housing development, he asked: 'Where is the local planning authority brave enough to say

'No, four executive houses on that plot is not the best use of the land; we need 10 or even 20 for first-time buyers to maintain a social mix'?'

Decision makers must consider the needs of villages as a whole, and try to provide the framework for a mixed community, said Mr Wakeford.

Research by the Countryside Commission shows that most people would prefer to live in the countryside. 'While half the inner city dwellers say they would prefer to be in the countryside, they may have in mind the rural idyll. But the lifestyle decisions of those who live there are turning villages into dormitories.'

While people bemoan the loss of their traditional greengrocers and butchers shops, they are spending their money in superstores.

'And they criticise the loss of rural bus services that they have never used, he argued. Furthermore, by zoning out jobs and middle-range housing, planners are helping to undermine further the character of the countryside.

All this was increasing our dependence on the motor car.

'We are more likely to wave at our neighbour as luxury cars pass in the country lane than to engage in village gossip outside the village shops.'

He welcomed a government statement that the countryside should not be considered the dumping ground for the residue of housing which urban areas are unable to accommodate.

'But there are still challenges to face. People are likely to become independent at an earlier age; there are more people divorcing and leading a single life; and more people are wanting to retire to the countryside.

'All of this will lead to pressure for more housing.

'The Countryside Commission has been working for a better living environment - new community forests on the edge of towns and cities; new buildings in villages which blend with local character, and measures to protect our finest scenery.

'With a long term vision, and a practical plan for achieving it, we can hope to achieve change that people can respect,' said Mr Wakeford.

'To provide homes for our children and grandchildren, we shall have to build in the countryside. But let's do it well and in the right places. The Countryside Commission will be playing a full part in that.'

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