Ye olde English planning rumpus

Five hundred new houses are planned for leafy Kibworth and local feelings are running high. Similar rows are breaking out all over the country, says Amanda Seidl
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The Independent Online
More than 250 people gathered in a south Leicestershire village hall last week for a noisy debate with representatives of the local council. The issue under discussion was the allocation of a site for 550 new homes on the edge of Kibworth, a village near Market Harborough, and the assembled residents were angry.

Their local MP, Edward Garnier, has even joined the attack. "It's all very well that we should have extra houses, but it should be based on local population growth," says Mr Garnier, who has offered to represent protesting residents at next year's local plan public inquiry.

The Kibworth debate is being echoed across the country as local councils put the finishing touches to their plans, the blueprint for development over the next 10 years. No one likes development in their backyard, particularly when it is a scenic field, and the allocation of greenfield sites for new housing has whipped up a storm in the shires.

Kibworth residents fear their village will be swamped by commuter families. Within easy distance of Leicester and Market Harborough, Kibworth is already popular with families from Leicester who are attracted by the village atmosphere of cricket pitch, pubs and local shops.The threat of more houses has done little to affect house prices, according to local estate agents, Connell Shakespear. Several houses in the latest development near the golf course have been reserved before being built.

Local businesses stand to benefit from the growth of Kibworth, and the issue of the new houses has divided the village between those who live and work there and the commuters.

David Johnson, who set up the protest group, Keep Kibworth Rural, admits that newcomers to Kibworth are among the most vehement objectors. "People who have moved here within the last few months are horrified at the plans because they came here for village life as it is," he says. The group is even backing two independent candidates, in next month's election.

The protest movement is, though, attacking the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. District councillors are, in many ways, also victims of the Planning & Compensation Act 1991 which requires the county councils to decide how many houses each district must accommodate in the next 10 years.

Although the local council can appeal against the allocation, they must eventually find sites for the agreed number of new homes. In-fill sites in towns will soak up a proportion, but some of the allocation will have to go on greenfield sites on the edge of towns or in villages.

Most of Harborough District Council's 6,500 new homes allocation has been directed at the town of Market Harborough, but the rest of the district must absorb the remainder, a fact that village residents are finding hard to accept.

With a population of 4,500, Kibworth has seen a steady stream of building on in-fill sites over the past 10 years. This piecemeal addition of some 400 homes has taken place without a complementary expansion of services and amenities. But by allowing a large comprehensive development, the council will be able to demand a number of community benefits.

The consortium of David Wilson Homes, William Davis Homes and Hallam Land Management is required in the local plan to build a new road, extend the primary school or build a new one, provide community facilities, contribute to the new railway station and a new car park. But the promises have done little to appease the protesters. They are against the principle of large-scale development "bolted on" to a village and would rather see the allocation shared out in the area.

Not all the village residents are against the proposed development. The first council meeting 18 months ago attracted just 80 residents, but KKR's recent campaign resulted in a petition which showed that half the village would prefer a smaller development of 250 homes.

Many of the older residents are resigned to the continued expansion of the village. But there are limits. Donald Crane has lived in Kibworth for 34 years: "There might be room for a few houses. But not to the extent that is being planned. There are already a lot of houses and flats standing empty. I fear that the big developers are going to steamroller this through."

"Lots of us here are retired. with small allotments. About 20 or 30 spend most of the day there. What worries us is the possibility of losing them if the place goes on growing. We have nowhere else to go."