20 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 10


Let us poor Nimbies rise up against the ruthless cosmopolitan toffs

BORIS JOHNSON Goodbye ponds, goodbye voles. Farewell you great-crested grebes and the manifold life-forms that survive in the well- sprayed hedgerows of West Sussex. Every week, every day, the noise of the traffic grows louder from Horsham; every month the brutal yellow diggers seem to bite into anoth- er patch of grass, and another Legoland col- lection of boxy Berkeley homes is erected. How long before they come for the deer park itself, through which some of us are still able to go for a run (or a stagger) on a Sunday evening?

Soon, according to the government's fascistic decrees, Crawley will live up to its name; yes, creepy Crawley will creep and crawl in a hideous progression of round- abouts, malls and multiplexes until Crawley mates with Horsham and a new megatown is born, perhaps called Crawsham or Horley, or Horlicks; and ancient villages will only be villages in the sense that Kensington and Chelsea were villages.

Already the roads — the once-empty lanes where my wife grew up and learned to ride a bicycle — are jammed with cars on their way to B&Q and Homebase. And now, says John Prescott, a further 1.1 million houses must be built in the South-east by 2016. I don't want to hear any more smug, self-satisfied, free-market nonsense from those of you who are lucky enough to live in the comparatively deserted East Sussex. Stop your drivel about how villages need an influx of young people to stay 'alive'. These plans amount to a cultural and architectural disaster, on a scale not seen since the post- war construction of blocks of flats.

They have turned me from a Nimble into a Nimbomaniac, and when I pick up the West Sussex County Times, Horsham edition, I find I am not alone. There were many hot stories in last week's soaraway paper, all competing for the front page. A horse has fallen off a bridge near Itchingfield. A fire- work 'could have started a major blaze', in the opinion of 'firefighters'. But pride of place had rightly been given to a report of a packed meeting of Horsham District Council, at which councillor after councillor stood up to condemn John Prescott, and his pathetic capitulation to the House Builders' Federa- tion. Liz Kitchen, a Conservative from Rus- per, explained how Prescott was now target- ing the 'strategic gap' between Horsham and Crawley, rather in the spirit of Goering look- ing longingly at a map of London. Under the new proposals, 1,330 houses would be built in the district each year, com- pared with the current recommendations.for 840. Christine Costin (Lib Dem, Trafalgar) summed up the mood of the meeting when she said: 'I am a Sussex person. I have lived for half a century in the South-east and have seen a lot of changes I hated and loathed. This is a recipe for disaster.' What can they do? How can they protest, these democrati- cally elected representatives of the people of West Sussex, short of throwing themselves beneath the JCBs? The villagers have taken to driving slowly round the roundabouts, with signs saying 'No more houses' on the back of their cars. Hopeless. The councillors last week resolved to 'get together' with other councils in the South-east and to 'fight the Secretary of State on his own ground'.

His own ground? And where might that be? The village of Trevor in Clwyd, where he grew up? Or Hull, which he now repre- sents? We all know that these houses are not needed in the South-east, and that Serplan is a nonsense. You only have to walk around Islington, where some houses have bushes sprouting from window frames, or those Georgian terraces in Camberwell which have been taken over by squatters, to see how vastly this nation is already over-housed — and that is before we have even begun looking for bargains in Trevor or Hull. Why, when the population is scarcely rising, is it necessary to turn so much of rural England into a glorified ten-pin bowling alley cum cinema multiplex? The answer is money and greed, which makes traitors of us all.

Turn to page 2 of the West Sussex County Times, and you will find a first-rate exposé of hypocrisy. At the Tory conference in Octo- ber Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher made a fringe speech, in his capacity as chairman of the Country Landowners' Association's environment and water committee. Inter

This pear's gone dome-shaped.'

alga, he said: 'The fact is that the countryside is now in trouble, and the countryside, along with farming, is on the brink. ... Farmers look after the countryside, and without them the landscape enjoyed by millions of people from urban areas will be lost.' And what is Aubrey-Fletcher doing himself to preserve the countryside for the enjoyment of the hapless grockles, not to speak of the indige- nous folk of West Sussex who believed that they were living in the countryside?

Is he joining local councillors, as a promi- nent local personage, in petitioning Prescott? Is he hell. It happens that he is a trustee of the Fletcher Trust, which owns a 300-acre greenfield site near the Worthing road. Far from consecrating this area for the farming he wants to protect, Sir Henry has decided that our 'enjoyment' would be immeasurably increased if the site were adorned with 2,000 new houses. Of course he is right that farm- ers are having a tough time of it, because of the iniquities of CAP, vegetarian faddism, BSE and all the rest of it. But Sir Henry strains credulity in asking us to include him in their number.

Sir Henry, like the Lucases, another fam- ily of local nobs much given to flogging off their land, is after the dosh, and with land fetching £1 million per acre around there, as a local man puts it, 'you don't need to be Carol Vorderman to work out the sums of money involved'.

I say this to my fellow Nimbies. Let us not waste time arguing the toss with Prescott. He doesn't give a monkey's about the fate of south-east England, especially not Horsham, which is still a Tory seat. There is no point in begging for clemency from the house builders, since they won't be happy until the whole place flies the flag of Barratt or Berke- ley. The only answer is to take the tight directly to the people who stand most to ben- efit: the toffs and nobs and squires who are able to sell their land, and decamp to Cape Town or Switzerland, or wherever. Charles Spencer, so he tells me, is doing exactly the same to parts of Northamptonshire.

It is time we little people formed into marching columns, chanting and waving staves as we wind up the drives of these estates; and if they ask us on what principle we are asking them to stop selling their land to the developers, we simply remind them of an old conservative principle that long pre- dates the Thatcherite free-for-all. It is called noblesse oblige, and it is all we have left.