The locals of Wrea Green fight development plans
- Credit: Archant
It has won a host of awards as the perfect village and has some of the most expensive property in Lancashire. But is Wrea Green in danger of being ruined? Roger Borrell reports Photography: Glynn Ward & Sean Donahue.
From this stunning aerial view, Wrea Green looks like the quintessential English village, an oasis of calm where the silence is broken only by the thwack of willow upon leather.
Pure fantasy, of course. Few rural communities remain untouched by the pressures of the 21st century. But for the people of Wrea Green, it seems like the last couple of years have been a constant struggle to keep one step ahead of people wanting to change their village beyond all recognition.
It still has the village green where the local cricket team takes on all comers and it is bordered by all those elements that make up the ‘perfect’ village – a school, a pub, a shop and the church. No wonder, property here is among the most expensive in the county.
But this scene of rural tranquillity masks deep feelings of anger and frustration, a village which has become a battleground with developers. Anyone in a hi-vis jacket is reported back to anti-development campaigners as potential surveyors eyeing up a new development.
This is a fight being played out up and down Lancashire as councils struggle to fulfil government targets to provide new homes but nowhere is it more passionate than Wrea Green.
While there is a real need for affordable housing and properties that would allow older locals to downsize, many feel developers are only interested in building executive estates in honeypot locations like this.
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Protest doesn’t come naturally to the people of middle England. But you can see from the number of signs declaring ‘No More Development’ that many here are thoroughly fed up.
People like Mick Mansell. His years with British Aerospace, travelling the world as an acoustics engineer, have given him a measured, thoughtful demeanour. But when you ask him what he thinks of the plans for 100 new homes virtually on his doorstep, he doesn’t hold back.
‘It’s a disaster for me and all of the people living here. My house will be unsalable.’ It’s hard not to sympathise. The upmarket modern detached house across from him on Willow Drive will be bulldozed to create an access road for the new estate.
He points out that there will be 2.4 metres – less than 8 feet – between the gable ends of the remaining properties and the new road. Each lorry will turn into the access road virtually outside his front door. ‘We’ll all need to wear ear defenders when we are in our gardens,’ he said.
Willow Drive is a small residential road coming off a mini-roundabout. It doesn’t look like the kind of street that would cope comfortably with anything other than light domestic traffic.
‘We are told it will take up to five years to build 100 homes,’ said Mike, who has lived there for 27 years. ‘That means five years of having 30 and 40 tonne trucks coming up our road bringing noise and filth. It’s insane that no-one can find a better plan for providing homes. We don’t feel like we can have a sensible dialogue with anyone about this.’
John Rowson, chairman of the local action group, has a map plotting the various plans – successful and unsuccessful – that developers have submitted in the last couple of years. It looks like a village under siege.
‘We have two large sites being developed concurrently and this could rise to three or four soon. Willow Drive will be the largest development the village has ever seen and access is poor,’ he said.
‘With the exception of one site, few of the dwellings are what the community requires or are close to employment. The buses have reduced from two services to one and extra housing means yet more traffic.
‘We have no bank, no doctor, only a private dentist, no garage and only one shop. The village primary school is over-subscribed and will be for many years to come. That is something that should concern families thinking of moving here.’
He points out that while planning consent often involves the provision of a proportion of affordable homes, developers csan simply buy their way out of this using a commuted payment scheme. This basically means they pay the local authority to build the affordable homes elsewhere in the borough, often in less attractive locations.
‘Wrea Green is turning from a village into a town but without any of the infrastructure,’ said John. ‘Traffic levels get worse – the last survey some years back showed each morning there were 10,000 vehicles at the crossroads by the school.’
He also points to local flooding and the failure to develop the sewerage system to cope with extra homes.
One of the latest proposals is for 50 houses on farmland just a stone’s throw from the green. ‘It was rejected but the developers have amended the scheme and re-submitted it,’ he said. ‘That seems to be their approach until they get approval.’
John Maskell is the chairman of the parish council and lives close to the village green. Like many, he feels let down by the local authority. ‘We do feel under siege and there doesn’t seem to be any respite. Developers seem to have the upper hand on the borough council. The Government says there is a need to build and they always vote to accept.
‘I’m not sure many of the planners have actually planned anything since leaving college. They are just putting ticks in boxes and approving what comes to them.
‘People are pragmatic. They realise things change and there will always be development. But they are cross about the volume and the type of development.
‘Builders are picking off pockets of land without there being any coherent development plan for the area. They feel the village is being spoiled, they feel helpless and that no-one is listening to them. We all feel like we are banging our heads against a brick wall.’
That feeling hasn’t been made any easier by the news that the first fracking site to receive Government approval is just one mile away from Wrea Green.
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