Culham is a village which lies just south of Abingdon in Oxfordshire, near the River Thames. A sleepy village of just 450 residents which has a history that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. Though more recently it has been the focus of BBC Two’s brand-new TV show, debuting on 31st January.
The two part documentary, sensationally titled ‘The New Builds Are Coming - Battle in the Countryside’, explores the release of greenbelt land to developers. In the village of Culham, the reporter discovers residents who have been frenzied by the plans to build three and a half thousand new homes on their doorstep, and who are hastily plotting the community’s resistance to the scheme.
The show initially interviews Cllr John Cotton the leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, a proponent of the scheme, as he tries to explain the proposals at Culham. Even he, concedes that the scheme divides opinion, claiming that the new settlement is a sore subject in the Cotton household – his wife is against any development on the greenbelt.
For those who are struggling to get on the housing ladder and appreciate the severity of the housing crisis, the following 40 minutes will be difficult watching. Pressure mounted on the new development from what became an effective opponent. ‘Save Culham Greenbelt’ used tried and tested methods to target the SODC’s consultation period, from deluging the planning office with objections to drawing the Council’s attention to local environmental designations. The core message of the opposition group was in many ways the same one we’ve all heard before – the story of the underdog local residents fighting to save the greenbelt. However, it’s particularly convincing when heard from seemingly rational people who we can all sympathise with, as the documentary portrays.
With large scale housebuilding so unpopular, it appears that there can be no end to our broken housing market. However, one quote from the investigative journalist stood out and gave me some reassurance.
“It’s those who don’t want the houses who have the loudest voices”
What was interesting in the documentary was that the reporter changed his tack, speaking to local residents at the doorstep, rather than faces that can be seen in the opposition group and at the public meetings. In doing so, he also heard the opinions of those who actually support housebuilding and feel like they are being priced out of the housing market. One younger resident gave the impression that he was hesitant to voice his opinion in the local community given how vocal the opposition was.
Clearer than ever it appears that it is not necessarily attitudes to housebuilding which prevent a solution to the housing crisis, and that by engaging more inclusively and not just with those who have the loudest voices, it may be easier to find a solution.
This article was written by Oliver Pearce, Senior Account Executive at MPC.