Monmouthshire CC Humbled

A little clichéd perhaps, but it is with a great sense of relief and optimism that Monmouthshire County Council have come out in full support of Kate Humble’s planned rural skills centre development (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-14330147). The innovative proposals put forward by Humble will see an abandoned farm turned into what hopefully will be manifest as a centre of excellence for rural crafts and farming practices. With the Council’s backing, the Monmouthshire authority is making a very visible commitment to its natural landscape and rural communities.

The use of the phrase ‘humbled’ in this articles title, though the pun may be intended, it is also in many respects an accurate assessment of the current situation in Monmouthshire. For, despite being dominated by swathes of rural land, below the surface you will find a rural Monmouthshire which has been ravaged by economic downturns, authority neglect and backhand property deals. For years what investment that has been provided for infrastructure and community wellbeing, has been poured into the urban areas. Towns such as Chepstow and Monmouth have grown fat from council money, directed towards poorly planned and inappropriate projects, simply because here is where you will find the most people.

The rural communities though have been left to rot. Farms are failing, village services are closing on a daily basis, while housing is becoming an impossibility for future generations. While Humble’s skills centre is an admirable project, one wonders how many farm small holdings will be given, at the right price of course, the planning permission required from the local authorities to construct the next mansion or villa that have come to symbolise the slow execution of rural Monmouthshire. Follow the conversation in many a rural Monmouthshire pub, and you will easily learn what price must be paid to convert a farmstead into a palatial manor. The price certainly won’t be measured in the cost of bricks and mortar, but in how expensive a ‘lunch’ you are willing to provide to the right person.

The evidence is all around our rural areas, monstrous constructions overlying the location of a former single cell barn. Although protection areas are in place to preserve the ‘character’ of the countryside, and while guidance is in place to ensure new builds and conversions are in keeping with this so called ‘character’, so many developments seem to fly through planning which flaunt these regulations that the entire process of protecting the countryside appear to be completely farcical. Indeed were in not for the celebrity and attention that comes with a well known BBC television presenter, could it be imagined that the Monmouthshire council would countenance such an offer from anyone else? The cynic must conclude that they would not, and the property would have been turned over, like so many before it, to a wealthy stay away owner, who would have developed something big, something ugly and something expensive.  

We should not overlook the fact that this is a good news story, it is a wonderfully positive enterprise put forward by Humble, and it, as well as the Council’s decision to support it, should be applauded. But it must not end with this one project. Attention needs to be directed to all the farm buildings that don’t have the wealth and status of Humble to protect them, otherwise Humble’s project will act less like a rural skills centre, and more like a museum to a lost rural landscape.

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