Villagers living in fear of sprawl

CASE STUDY
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The Independent Online
More than half-a-century ago, residents at two villages were promised that an airfield would be turned back to farmland at the end of the Second World War. But, 50 years on, they have abandoned such dreams to concentrate instead on the business of warding off bids to build hundreds of houses there.

Far from enhancing the villages, the disused land at Marsworth Camp could potentially destroy a rural style of life which has been cherished by locals since the days of the Domesday Book.

In her 12 years as clerk to Marsworth parish council, in Buckinghamshire, Sylvia Frost has encountered several land-hungry developers. Most recently, Skimmed Milk Suppliers Limited applied to build 100 residential dwellings on the property. The application was thrown out by the local district council (Aylesbury Vale) and has now gone to appeal, leaving villagers nervously awaiting the response by John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Local opinion is unanimous: the consequences of developing the airfield site, situated between the two Hertfordshire villages, Long Marston and Marsworth, would wipe out both communities at a stroke. The obvious problem would be the terrific increase in traffic on the narrow country lanes and canal bridges. What is now a peaceful amble over to the canal could become a hazardous venture.

Mrs Frost explained the traditional routine: "Marsworth has a very narrow hump-back canal bridge over which only one car can pass at a time. Villagers walk over it to get to the canal. There are all sorts of plans for traffic lights and hatchings on the side of the road for pedestrians but, I mean, this is a little rural community. It's totally unsafe."

There is also the toll that such an influx of residents would take on the fabric of the community. "Where would these people go to? Who would they gel with?" Mrs Frost asked.

"There's no one in the village who objects to newcomers, but if we have 100 houses we're going to have 200 people all at once. That's an awful lot of people to absorb into a community at one go. It will either be a separate settlement or it could set a precedent for everything to be joined together. We could become another Aylesbury or Tring or something. That would be a tragedy."

The situation is similar in Long Marston, where Rick Williams, chairman of planning for Tring rural council, is fighting the case for the village. "We don't feel there is the need for the housing. There are a lot of houses up for sale around our way. Whatever house you want you can have - at a price. But the other lot will cost you too."

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