The literati don't want new homes built in our countryside - Mark Piggott on why they're wrong
Being a far-from successful author I bow to no man in my admiration for Julian Barnes, whose novels sit on the shelves of my modest two-bed maisonette in London. Each morning I walk my two kids past Mr Barnes's large detached house on our way to school; sometimes he stands in the window looking out, no doubt dreaming up his latest idea.
Or perhaps Mr Barnes, who co-signed a letter to the Sunday Times last week (29 September 2013) is looking out at the leafy street and fervently hoping developers build a huge new housing development on the site of Mansfield Bowling Club down the hill; after all, as the letter to the ST explains, explains, there are so many brownfield site sin our inner cities which could safely be built upon without unduly impacting on the population.
But hang on - what's this? According to the Ham & High, Mr Barnes was one of those locals who protested against plans to build luxury flats on the site of the bowling club this summer. Campaigners claimed that "It's very important that pieces of open greenery in London should be protected and kept. They should be maintained and if they fall out of use, they should be given another use, but we should not build houses on them."
So Mr Barnes doesn't want new homes built near his place; nor does he want them built out in the countryside, presumably in case they spoil his occasional rambles across the Downs. Yet Britain has a massive housing shortage; so where do these well-known authors, none of whom exactly struggle to lay their heads, want new homes built?
The authors, who also include the wondrous Jeanette Winterson and even-more-so Benjamin Zephaniah, state that brownfield sites in cities need to be developed. As someone who has lived in London for almost 30 years I totally disagree. Cities NEED brownfield sites; not just parks but those unkempt patches of wasteland and weed that are home to an incredible diversity of species and prevent city-dwellers from going mad.
This campaign is also dishonest because at no point in their joint letter do any of the authors mention the main factor behind our shortage of homes: immigration. In the year up to December 2012 our net population rose by 176,000 people - the size of a small city. Do these extremely well-off authors believe all the new immigrants should be shoved in tower blocks, emerging only to clean the homes of the rich?
My wife and I share a small maisonette with our two growing children, aged nine and seven. According to our housing association there simply isn't anywhere larger, which is why my wife and I currently sleep in a box room along with a carbon-monoxide-emitting boiler.
Now we are thinking of leaving London to live in a village in a larger house, where our kids could enjoy some fresh air and open spaces, but presumably Mr Barnes and his fellow signatories wouldn't approve of that either?