Thursday, 19 February 2009


Do you ever wonder what people in the future will make of our life today? We find it amazing now that our ancestors could have taken so long to abolish slavery, or to give women the vote. So imagine a history lesson in about 100 years’ time – what will gobsmack them about our life?

One of the things local historians will scratch their heads about is why the Uckfield to Lewes railway line was ever closed, and why it took so long to re-open it. I’m willing to be forgiving about the way it was closed – true, you could describe it as a form of authorised vandalism, but you have to take into account the climate of the time (1969). People thought railways were old hat and being superseded by the car, so if a money-losing railway line got in the way of a new road (in this case the Phoenix Causeway in Lewes), well you closed the railway, didn’t you!

But for the past 20 years, if not many more, we have known that railways hold the key to allowing us to get from A to B without further damaging the planet or congesting our roads. They represent a good option environmentally and practically, and those two arguments increase in validity with every new house that’s built in the Wealden area.

And not just Wealden. Can we really be serious that the whole of the south coast from Hastings to Littlehampton should be served by a single twin-track rail route from London? It sounds ludicrous, but that’s what we’ve got. And that’s what the re-opened Uckfield-Lewes line would eradicate.

This is not the place to look at why the line hasn’t been re-opened, but I find it a disgrace that a Labour government has not backed rail in this case, and some prominent people will have to eat humble pie when the line re-opens. For re-open it will, because re-open it must. And when it does, people will look back in astonishment at how long it took to re-open it and how some of the most valid arguments were tossed aside with fatuous counter-arguments.

On Monday a plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the line’s opening will be unveiled at Uckfield station. Let’s hope it will be start of the final push to end 40 years of mealy-mouthed ‘oh, I’m not sure it can really be done’ arguments and get the most obvious rail re-opening in Britain off the ground.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


They just don't understand, do they!

I've never been keen on a 'them & us' view of urban and rural people, because everyone likes their own mix of the urban and the rural in life, but you have to wonder sometimes just how much people in the office blocks of government really understand what life is like out in the sticks.

It took several decades for Whitehall's mandarins to realise that the policy of 'predict and provide' didn't work with roads. They thought that if you predicted the amount of traffic that would want to use the roads, you then just built the right amount of road capacity, and there you are. What they didn't realise is that the more roads you build, the more journeys you create, so you're always chasing your tail.

It's not exactly the same with house building, but pretty nearly. The government and its so-called economists (I say 'so-called' because some of them seem to be giving economics a very bad name with their fatuous assumptions) have realised that house prices are going up, and that there's greater demand for homes because of marriage breakdowns and twentysomethings wanting their own place earlier. So it says we must build the right amount of houses, and that will solve the problem.

So it comes up with all sorts of numbers, and says - among other things - that Wealden has to have 11,000 new homes by 2026! Eleven thousand! And it's not even guaranteeing the schools, shops, hospitals etc will also be around to make all these new homes part of viable communities. So they are building homes to house people who will have to drive everywhere in their cars to get their basic services. Great for the environment, eh!

In short it's madness, but then it was the urban majority who thought it was crazy that the government should spend so much money bailing out the farming industry when it suffered from foot-and-mouth a few years ago. Why should a sector responsible for just 3% of GDP receive so much money, the argument went.

I saw it differently. To me the scandal was that growing our own food makes up just 3% of GDP, not that the government should support it in its hour of need. And that summarises how much the conurbation mindset doesn't understand the countryside.

I'm pleased to see there is widespread support for an on-line petition calling for the government to review its house building target for Wealden, including from our MP Charles Hendry. But wait a moment.

It's easy for Charles Hendry to support this petition now, but if his party gets into government - which is a distinct possibility after the next general election - will he continue to back the call for revised targets? And if he does, will he get heard? The Conservative party won't get into office without some funding from private companies, and you can bet those companies will include developers who are dead set on getting their houses built.

I too am encouraging people to sign the petition (click on, and if elected to Parliament I will also push for the house building targets to be revised sharply downwards. We don't want a complete absence of development or the area will stagnate, but it has to be at a level that the established community can reasonably absorb.

Just ask yourself before the general election - do you trust an MP whose party relies heavily on big business to stick to his promise on house building targets, or would you trust more an MP whose party has a root-and-branch understanding of the countryside and is not beholden to large developers?