Last night I went to the Eastlands & Hillmorton Community Forum meeting at the Hillmorton school. These are organised to bring together the County Council, Borough Council and Police to discuss issues with local people. Every three months, for example, the local beat officers present updates on their work and there’s a discussion about the three areas they should prioritise for the next three months.
There were a lot of people there who wanted to talk about the proposals for development to the East of the town, on the old radio mast sites. One side of the A5 is proposed to be DIRFT III, which would roughly double the size of the whole of DIRFT (which is currently being expanded under DIRFT II). By the way, DIRFT stands for Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal, and basically it’s a hub for transport of freight, allowing for train cargo to be unloaded and loaded directly to trucks or to warehousing.
On the other side of the A5 it’s proposed that about 6,200 houses and flats be built, along with infrastructure (a secondary school and three primaries, a shopping centre based around the current ‘C’ Station building) and some small units for light industry.
The people of Clifton-upon-Dunsmore are up in arms because part of the plans would be a road to link these houses to Rugby which would go near to them. But Hillmorton people are up in arms because this link road is not planned to be started until houses are already completed in the first phase. The first 1,500 houses would be accessed from the A428, between the railway bridges and DIRFT. The precedent of the Western Relief Road (planned at the time Cawston Grange was built, finally completed last year and some time after Cawston was pretty much completed) was mentioned. The A428 Hillmorton Road is already pretty congested at times, and so people living on it and off of it are understandably concerned.
Of course, there will always be the NIMBY tendency to oppose all development nearby, which will mean people look as hard as they can to find reasons to object. But there are clear legitimate worries about the scale of the plans and their effects. The original outlines did not include building much to the South of the A428 – now they show light industry along both sides of the road, which is a key route from much of Rugby through to DIRFT and to the M1.
To declare an interest, that’s the way I go when driving to work in Northampton, and I’m not looking forward to the prospect of of commuting through it as they build and then once everything is occupied. Also, I quite like cycling along the Coventry-Oxford Canal which loops around Rugby at Hillmorton because it’s a really quiet and attractive stretch. Some of the housing will be very close to the canal, and the link road would run alongside it for quite some distance.
But houses are needed in the UK, as the population increases (fairy slowly) and household sizes shrink (quite a lot). The jobs provided by an expanded DIRFT may not all be skilled or lucrative, but they are jobs all the same, which Rugby could do with. The position of Rugby, slap dab in the middle of England, close to the M1 and M6, convenient for Birmingham and Leicester and plenty of other places, makes it an attractive place to live. Closing it off to new development would risk stagnation when there is opportunity to progress. It would also further increase the pressure for piecemeal development in the town, such as replacing houses on large plots with flats, or using large gardens. Planned development beats unplanned development, development in or near established towns beats development way out in the countryside or at villages, and development close to employment beats dormitory estates intended for commuters.
I can see the reasons for building on the site. I can see why a lot of people might oppose the very idea out of hand. Between the two positions, what we really want is sustainable development that doesn’t cause huge disruption and is large enough so that there isn’t pressure just to find another large site around the town.