How green was my valley


IT’S been quiet in our village since work stopped on building sites in our market town of Clitheroe. The daily procession of low-loaders carrying heavy plant, concrete mixer trucks and lorries laden with girders and roof trusses, inches from our front door, has ceased.

Over the last few years Clitheroe has changed dramatically with the building of thousands of houses, both near the centre and round the outskirts.

At any one time several fields are being excavated and turned into huge building sites for hundreds of new homes. It seems that every week a sign goes up advertising dream homes coming soon.

Under the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework Clitheroe was required to build 2,320 homes in the 20 years between 2008 and 2028, out of a target for the Ribble Valley Borough Council of 5,600. This in itself was in my opinion too much of a burden to put on the infrastructure, not to mention the character of the town. Twelve years into the plan, Clitheroe has not only met its requirement of 2,320 homes but exceeded it by 308. Yet planning consents have continued to be granted at a crazy pace. There are consents for another 1,232 homes yet to be built and the applications still keep coming in. The population of Clitheroe at the 2011 census was 14,765, just 68 more than the 2001 figure. The estimated population this year is 20,823, an increase of 6,058 in nine years, or 41 per cent. It is too much.

Very few of the new developments incorporate any schools, clinics, pubs, playgrounds, libraries (old-fashioned idea as that is) or shops, though now the council is promoting a more robust policy of requiring developers to contribute to school places, GP surgeries, parks, green spaces, bus subsidies and roadsThe houses are sold by a variety of developers but all look strangely similar, faced with a nasty yellow faux stone and featuring little gables. If there has been any attempt to blend the new architecture with the Clitheroe vernacular, it has failed. They are crowded together with postage-stamp gardens, far too small for children to play football. They have tiny rooms, sometimes below the minimum space recommended by government guidelines. Developers may get round this by describing a house as three bedrooms in the planning application but selling it as two bedrooms with a study. The clusters of new homes all have idyllic names bought off the shelf from a name factory, such as Rose Gardens, Pendleton Grange, Half Penny Meadows. This is a selection from the forest of yellow signs along the A59, the road that goes past Clitheroe.

Clitheroe has a renowned grammar school and a large comprehensive, and developers continue to promote Clitheroe schools as a selling point. However the pressure on school places is such that some of the children of purchasers in Clitheroe from outside the borough now have to go to schools in Burnley (10 miles, 30 minutes) or Pendle (16 miles, 30 minutes). There are no more GP surgeries or parking spaces in Clitheroe than there ever were. Traffic jams, once unknown, are regular.

Who benefits? Shopkeepers must be pleased and pubs may get more trade (if they survive the lockdown). But as usual the maxim ‘Follow the money’ holds good. There are no separate figures for Clitheroe that I can find, but Tory former council leader Ken Hind has calculated for the Ribble Valley council area that allowing ten homes per acre and an average house price of £193,102 (source: Zoopla) the value of development land made available so far by planning consents is £480million, and the value of the new homes is more than £1.2billion. Allowing a profit margin of 25 per cent for developers (on the low side) the total profits made from land sales and building will be £780million.

This may or may not be related, but when I was a junior evening paper reporter in the 1970s, at least one night a week and often two, on top of my day’s work I attended council meetings and wrote up screeds of reports for the next day’s edition. This is apparently unheard of these days and one wonders whether the absence of press scrutiny has any bearing on the decision-making process.

Thanks to Ken Hind for his help.


We had a couple of frosty nights this week, which the gunneras don’t like, but they are coming on.

This is last Friday’s picture:

And this is yesterday’s.

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