I live in the Highlands of Scotland: relatively low population density.
Recently I found myself spending a couple of weeks living on the eastern outskirts of Bristol; I went down to arrange my father’s funeral. My experiences in the area were disappointing, much as I have a lot of residual affection for a part of the world in which I spent my first 18 years.
In a nutshell, I couldn’t help concluding that we appear to be living in an ‘Undeveloping Nation’; certainly as far as some parts of our country are concerned. When I left east Bristol over 35 years ago, it seemed to me to be a vibrant part of the city, in good shape. In the past 2 weeks, however, there were times when I thought I was visiting a Third World country: crumbling infrastructure; crappy commercial and local authority signs plastered everywhere you looked; over-dense housing developments; more by-passes, dual-carriageways, street signs and motor vehicles than you could shake a sick at; the suburb of Lawrence Hill, for example, having some of the characteristics and outward appearance of a Somalian locality (how and why so in a suburb of Bristol, England? Was this demographic development planned and agreed 30 years ago with the locals?); I could go on.
(Aside: Bristolians remain truly some of the friendliest people you could wish to meet).
Here’s a photograph taken in Kingswood High Street last week; the shop you see on the corner on the left was once a well-kept and beautifully presented model shop (without shutters) where I would go each Saturday morning to admire the model toys on offer, sometimes scraping together enough pocket money to buy an airfix kit. How does this ‘vista’ represent progress since 1973?
England – if it’s not already so – is set to become one of the most, if not the most, densely populated nations in Europe. Our public services are stretched to breaking point; public sector finances are out of control; the national debt climbs inexorably; there is tension on our utopian, multicultural streets where off-duty soldiers now run the risk of being hacked to pieces by their fellow citizens.
Meantime, a cretinous politician tells us we need to scrub the British countryside and build more houses … presumably to cope with the unfettered growth in the population of this country, half-a-million of whom arrive on these shores every year from other nations (whilst 300,000 of us wisely leg-it to foreign climes). You couldn’t make it up.
So, let’s dwell then for one more moment on the profound wisdom of a card-carrying member of the British political elite living, as we do, in an ‘Undeveloping Nation’ which needs to import 40% of its food, with that proportion rising annually; Mr Boles tells us that …
“The sum of human happiness that is created by the houses that are being built is vastly greater than the economic, social and environmental value of a field that was growing wheat or rape.”
PS Perhaps Mr Boles might consider relocating to Bristol’s Lawrence Hill district where he could be overwhelmed with human happiness?
PPS Perhaps I’m more sensitive to urban and suburban environments, living as I have done for 35 years in rural and semi-rural locations? However, I challenge anyone to explain to me how what I witnessed as (presumably) ‘economic development’ in and around east Bristol last week might be construed as progress, or the enhancement of quality of life? At times the ambience (signage, dense housing, signage, dense transport, signage, soulless dual-carriageways, signage, soulless by-passes, closed-down pubs, sorry looking shops, signage, crumbling infrastructure …) was a tad overwhelming.
In posting a comment on the Daily Telegraph website along the lines of my post above, ‘Working Nomad’ accused me of being a bigot, to which I replied as follows:
I seem to recall a previous Prime Minister calling a citizen ‘a bigot’ when she expressed some reasonable concerns about the trajectory of our society (she didn’t quite put it like that).
I was genuinely shocked at the deterioration in the socio-economic environment that I experienced in east Bristol whilst I was there, compared to how it was 35 years ago. On virtually any measure, the environment has regressed. I feel comfortable in saying as much because those of my family and friends who remained in the area this past 35 years said as much themselves.
It’s a shame that to make such an observation invites an accusation of bigotry. I suppose Gordon Brown felt obliged to do the same to Gillian Duffy when she rattled his cage.
My concern is the extent to which our political class imposes societal change on us all artificially and, recently (over the past 20 – 30 years), at breakneck speed. I doubt whether the citizens of, say, Lawrence Hill were consulted 20 or 30 years ago on whether they wanted their community to become the alien landscape that it is today. My cousin, who has lived in Lawrence Hill all his life, no longer recognises his locality, where inter alia the crime rate is twice that of the average ward in Bristol.
Here is the reality of life in Lawrence Hill thanks, presumably, to the good work of our politicians this past quarter-century: http://tinyurl.com/p8dlytv
That said, I agree with ‘Working Nomad’ that much of Bristol is lively and vibrant, as he says. Oh, and another thing! When I grew up in Kingswood (in the late 60s and early 70s) the local delicacy was the Clark’s pie. The company was established in 1947 and today a baker (David Baggs) still makes Clark’s pies by hand in his shop in Redfield (picture below). Whilst Mrs Moraymint and I were in Bristol recently (to where we made two return trips) we purchased a ‘Freezer Pack’ of a dozen Clark’s pies on each trip. The ‘Freezer Pack’ consists of Mr Baggs grabbing a cardboard box from the back of his shop and, er, putting 12 freshly baked Clark’s pies in the box. So, to end, here’s a definition of ‘Human Happiness’: a Clark’s pie. Thank you Mr Baggs! Hope to see you again soon …
Daily Telegraph ‘Homes create more “human happiness” than fields, Planning Minister claims’: http://tinyurl.com/olgz3rj