Tuesday 1 March 2011

Hethersett Circle: A Dilemma - Transition Themes #3

At the February meeting of the Hethersett Circle we had a proper discussion about a subject that kept forcing its way to the surface in previous meetings, when we were supposed to be talking about topics such as food, transport and waste. The rogue topic is the ‘threat of massive housing development’ that has been hanging over Hethersett for the last few years – ever since the Greater Norwich Development Project pencilled in Hethersett to receive a significant share of the 30,000 ish houses planned for the Norwich area. Development on this scale can seriously impact on peoples’ lives – fields turn into housing estates, quiet lanes become major roads – so it is not surprising that people are concerned. But why did the topic keep intruding into other discussions? Well, because the ability to grow food locally is dependent on the supply of allotments, people will only cycle if there are safe routes to cycle on and people can can only buy local sourced produce if there are local shops selling it. And then there is the whole subject of energy efficient homes and local energy production.

So the way that new housing is developed has a massive impact on the lifestyle that will be adopted by the eventual occupants. It seems to me that nearby housing developments have not done nearly enough to make it easy to cycle – paths stop in the middle of nowhere. There is no provision of sheltered housing for the elderly that would enable them to vacate large family homes but still live in the community. People drive short distances to the shops rather than walk or cycle. I could go on – and on …

As a parish councillor I believe it is my role to try to influence the planning of local developments to support the lifestyles that I believe we should be aiming for. My own experience is that developers are open to persuasion – they want to build houses that people wish to live in (and make a profit of course). Within Transition there are people who are not enthusiastic about getting involved in the planning process and prefer to concentrate on personal action to reduce their own carbon footprint. Of course getting involved in the planning process takes time and energy that at a personal level I’d much rather spend on my own veg patch – much more pleasurable and I get nice things to eat!

At the end of our discussion most of us decided that we should get involved in some aspects of the planning process and we will open communications with the Hethersett Parish Council to seek their views. But this is not the first time I have come across this dilemma in Transition. Should Transition purely focus on enabling people to take personal action or should we also spend some time on trying to influence what is being done by our elected representatives? I, for one, would be interested to read your comments.

The pictures are from the leaflet created by a developer after a consultation exercise where local people were invited to make suggestions.


  1. These are really good questions, John. I grew up in the 70s on the outskirts of High Wycombe in Bucks (now also a Transition Town) and experienced firsthand (and with much dismay!)how the woods and fields were systematically cleared for new houses all around. Needless to say that area can no longer be called the outskirts. It changed from being semi-rural to being a suburb in little more than a decade.

    Since becoming involved with Transition there are many things I do now that I would not have before. Funnily enough I've become less focused on the personal side and more willing to be part of a collective effort to save the libraries, for example, or help organise low carbon events.

    I think there's still a big lacuna in the general consciousness about just how challenging the times ahead are likely to be, though that might be shifting with the present economic and energy climate.

    I just finished reading "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler. He talks about the "psychology of previous investment", where so much energy has gone into creating a system, that things don't change until they get really bad. And sometimes the system is unreformable.

    I think that any new infrastructure needs to be built with an awareness of both future energy constraints and a changing climate. So those who have some notion of them probably need to be in the conversations about planning somehow.

    Gosh this comment's long. Well, your post got me thinking...

  2. It is an interesting question indeed John.
    I think that Transition is fairly rare in its focus on personal lifestyle change and therefore it is important to value that.
    I also think that there are other groups and organisations doing lobbying and campaigning.
    However, I think if policy/ local conditions are hindering a Transition Project such as the Farmshare then influencing representatives would definitely be a good course of action.
    So I suppose in a nutshell I mean we should focus on personal lifestyle change (in transition, definitely do both in life), but when bigger changes are required to enable aspects of this we should look bigger.
    But in the end transition is whatever its members want it to be, so if a group of TNers wanted to start a lobbying group then they would get my full support!!

  3. Dear John,

    While it's true that Transition Circles in TN are focussed on personal carbon reduction,as a movement Transition is a "community-led response to climate change and peak oil". We have to work within the frame of the place and people we find ourselves. And Engaging with the Council is a Transition Ingredient.


    You have a tough dilemma in Hethersett! I would baulk at working with developers having once been an activist campaigning against the building of houses in the past. As a group (Canal 21 in Oxford) we did communicate with the company about sustainable alternatives to building an expensive Lego-land on green space. And they used our words for their marketing and renamed their scheme " Regeneration" . . .

    I'd be much smarter now.

  4. Thanks for the link Charlotte - there is some good stuff there. I'm well aware of the dangers of being 'used' by developers but in the current climate of cuts I don't see any alternative ways of getting funding.

    For me, the only unacceptable option is to 'do nothing'!