The windswept West Yorkshire moors which provided the inspiration for the classic works of the Brontë sisters are being threatened by proposals to develop some of the Green Belt land into new homes, infuriating locals and fans of the literary family.
Bradford Council is currently consulting on proposals to build 48,500 new homes in the area to cope with increasing demand, as well as making improvements to the region's transport network, by 2028. Under the blueprint being debated are plans for at least 600 new homes in the small village of Haworth, plus a minimum of 400 in the neighbouring villages of Oakworth and Oxenhope.
Haworth – population 2,000 – is one of the most famous literary tourism spots in the world. The Brontë family lived at the parsonage, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, writing works that include Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights .
John Huxley, chairman of Haworth Parish Council, said residents plan to fight the proposals to preserve the landscape: "We were shocked by the number of houses they were asking us to take," he said. "There are several brownfield sites that could be used.
"We do see ourselves as a community which could take some houses, but 600 is just huge. A thousand new houses in the valley would have a dramatic effect on the landscape."
Under the plans, urban areas will be extended first to meet the housing targets. The document highlights the need to protect Brontë Country's tourist industry, with more than a million visitors every year. However, it says "sustainable local Green Belt deletions will be utilised to meet housing need" – adding that when building new homes, "using appropriate materials and a good quality of design is important to safeguarding and enhancing local character."
Cllr Huxley said the Council's assurances were "in direct contradiction of what they want to do". "I have seen a plan and some of the green space in our valley is certainly under threat, no question. It is a serious issue for us. This is a unique environment. If you build over a field – it's gone forever. It's never going to come back. If we were to lose the landscape, it would have a hugely detrimental effect to the tourism industry."
Meanwhile, it has emerged that a project to repair Haworth Parish Church, where the Brontë sisters are buried, could be scrapped unless supporters are able to raise £31,000 to secure its funding from English Heritage. The money is needed to repair parts of the roof, built between 1879 and 1881, and damage to paintings in the nave. The church has also been the target of three lead thefts in the past 18 months.
The project has been granted £98,000 for the work, on the condition that volunteers are able to raise an additional £64,000 themselves. So far, they have raised £33,000.