Tuesday, 26 November 2013


As with the well-known elephant test, ‘sustainability’ can be somewhat difficult to describe; but the chances are that “you’ll know it when you see it…” – although, of course, if there are six blind men involved, all bets are off…!

Actually, on second thoughts, it may be its absence, or its obverse, that you notice first – unsustainability (which I mentioned in my last post) – as it seems to be all around us – and growing day by day – despite supposed moves towards the greener part of the political spectrum….

To get back to basics, for a moment, sustainability itself is a noun: which is defined as “that which is capable of being sustained [which is a little circular in its reasoning]; and, in ecology, the amount or degree to which the earth’s resources may be exploited without damage to the environment”.

In a way, both of these aspects are important when it comes to assessing how a new, large housing development may affect the village; and – although the current government’s green credentials may be evaporating (in a pile of crap) before our eyes – should both, therefore, be at the heart of major legislative requirements. It is the latter definition, though, which moves me most….

To try and capture the strong feelings in the village, and couch them in terms of ‘material considerations’, a letter was drafted by the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group, that could either simply be signed by residents who objected; or adapted by them to help them register their opposition. This was immensely successful – as hundreds of submissions were received by the district council.

Here are a few of the included pertinent grounds for objection:

The development is unsustainable: in that it is disproportionate in scale; and would increase the number of houses in Middle and Upper Tysoe by over 20% – causing undue harm to the character of the local landscape, the community, and its important environmental and historical assets.

The council’s Core Strategy states that developments should cause no significant increase in traffic on rural roads: and yet a sudden influx of 80 households will inevitably include a large proportion working outside the parish. This is inherently unsustainable: as it will generate a large increase in commuting and service traffic, through both Oxhill and Tysoe – especially as the local bus service is infrequent. The local roads are narrow and unsafe, and are already blocked at peak times. Such an increase will affect not only existing traffic – including a large number of agricultural vehicles, crucial to the local economy – but cyclists, horse-riders, and pedestrians (including parents and small children on their way to and from Tysoe Primary School and Tysoe Pre-School). 

The village’s surgery is already at full capacity: and, therefore, there would be no healthcare facilities for the large number of incoming residents. Local sewage and surface water management are already over-capacity; and the part of Tysoe under consideration – like much of the village – is already subject to frequent flooding.

There will be a detrimental effect on local heritage and environmental assets, including Tysoe Manor: a Grade II* listed medieval building, on land immediately adjacent to the proposed development. Not only will the new houses also be visible from the Edgehill escarpment – which is part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) bordering the village – but it will form a major incursion across the village boundary into the countryside – in contravention of the council’s Core Strategy policy, which states that any development proposals should avoid such high-quality land as the ridge-and-furrow field the development will replace: land that is of ecological and archaeological value, locally and nationally. Access to the development will also involve loss of hedgerow.

I keep coming back to those two words: “community” and “identity”, though. They, too, can be hard to define (yet also utterly recognizable) – but my largest worry at the moment is that they, too, will be unsustainable in the onslaught of such an overwhelming addition to the built environment (and probably in a style more suited to the urban than the rural), and the huge population increase (again, probably more suited to the urban than the rural) this will entail.

To finish: sustainable development (which is what we obviously want for our village – as we know we have to keep on growing…) itself is defined in many ways – but probably the most frequently cited is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

I think we may need to get this printed on a few T-shirts….

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Light and darkness…

A couple of nights ago, Jim Al-Khalili’s new two-part documentary, Light and Dark, aired on BBC Four: exploring how humanity has uncovered the secrets of the universe by using and manipulating light. According to Professor Al-Khalili, “The central premise of this series is that what the human eye can see is only a fraction of the vast amount of matter and energy that exists…”.

Deep stuff indeed from my favourite science communicator; but I have pondered similar matters, recently, when returning home – in the near darkness – from neighbourhood planning meetings.

Tysoe, currently, is quite a dark place at night – lit only by the very occasional streetlight; residents’ scattered welcoming front door lamps; the odd glowing window; and infrequent passing cars and bicycles… – hinting only slightly at the many lives that collide and separate; that help glue the village together and make it what, uniquely, it is. It is therefore not unusual to see folks wandering to and from the pub, for example, with torches; or using the LED flashes on their smartphones to help walk their dogs. To be honest, nothing else, really, is needed.

However, last night, I was lucky to have my one-mile walk home – from Lower Tysoe, through the churchyard – lit by an almost full, waning gibbous moon. I had no need for the torch I routinely carry; nor for the rude interruption of sodium street lighting. The sky was so clear that the light was pure and white, and cast crisp, strong shadows. It also meant, of course, that an uncountable number of stars were visible: with my favourite constellation, Orion, rising majestically over Old Lodge Hill.

Our ancestors must have revelled on such nights: appreciating that there were greater powers at play – but not, perhaps, understanding them – but probably worshipping whatever they believed those ineffable powers to be. Nowadays, we take the night sky – that is, when we can actually see it… – for granted; and, arrogantly, assume that we know how it ‘works’, and that there is no longer any need for awe, humility, or even simple appreciation.

At a recent Parish Council meeting, the chairman complained about the number of requests for additional lighting that are made (which the council, sensibly, turns down…); and I fear that the development of a large estate to the west of the village would produce a glow of light that would wipe the scene I witnessed forever from the eyes of a large number of both existing and arriving villagers.

A large part of the argument against such a development is its unsustainability – and I would argue that not only is there the smog of the many additional car and supply vehicles’ journeys into and out of the village to take into account (as well as the detriment to the environment of building so many houses all in one place, and at one time…); but that the resulting light pollution would also play a role in removing our children one further step from the nature that Tysoe is so intertwined with.

What makes Tysoe special (for me…)

Just about three years ago, our car broke down in Stratford-upon-Avon, on our way to somewhere completely different. Whilst our car was being repaired, we wandered into town, and spotted a picture of the house we now live in, in the window of an estate agent.

I’m not entirely sure what drew us to it – in fact, I was particularly reluctant, initially, to be drawn at all! – but, eventually (having agreed that we were going to move back to Wiltshire, from north London), we compiled a list of properties to look at, local to Stratford. This was the only one we fell in love with.

Objectively, there is little that is ostensibly remarkable about the house. Admittedly, for a building of its age, it has character – but the garden is smaller than we would have liked; and it doesn’t have a garage! One thing it does have going for it, though, is that it is in Tysoe.

Having lived in a small village, before, I knew how important the post office and shop would be; how fundamental it is that there is a pub, a village hall, a doctors’ surgery; how you soon get to know your neighbours – and trust them. What I hadn’t expected was the amazingly strong – possibly unique – strength and sense of identity and community the “three hamlets… of Over, Church and Temple Tysoe” jointly possess: something that continues to become more apparent (and amaze) with each passing day.

The current campaign to fight the development of eighty houses on Oxhill Road – of which I have suddenly found myself a crucial part – typifies this; and I must admit to being overwhelmed by the sense of purpose, unity and duty that drives those motivated to “do something about it”. It seems I am not the only one who finds this place so very special.

At the opening night of Richard II, at the RSC, recently, it struck me that John of Gaunt’s final “this sceptred isle” speech – a dying man’s prophesy; an old man’s rant – could be about our village: “This earth of majesty… This other Eden, demi-paradise… This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone… This blessed plot, this earth, this realm…”. This Tysoe.

And, just as the fight “Against the envy of less happier lands” gathered pace: as the deadline loomed for objections to be submitted against the planning proposal for those eighty houses, I realized (nay, was devoured by) the enormity of the task; and, Lear-like, headed out into the dark, the pelting rain, and howling winds, to try and gain some perspective.

But, in that “night’s storm I such a fellow saw”, hunched up, like me, against the “foul weather”; but, despite the air of foreboding, he uttered a friendly and welcoming “hello”. Just one word – and yet containing so much of what is special about this place.

For various reasons, I spend as much time as I can walking (badly, encumbered by a stick; and sometimes my camera) – whether it be by Shakespeare’s Avon; or through his supposed poaching ground of Charlecote. But, whatever the undoubted attractions of those places, I prefer just to wander around the local byways – maybe up to the windmill; or to Upton House; or across the fields to Oxhill. But I am at my most content, just sitting in the churchyard, knowing this is my village – and that this is where I will stay. To paraphrase Touchstone: “When I am at home, I am in a better place.”

A random bit of poetry…

Plough and scatter

Impossible perspectives,
to eyes trained on more rugged climbs:
gouged strands of tilth
that race, but never touch,
scarred by the ferrous digits
of a lifeless claw,
before a backdrop
of both bird and bough –
a euphony for all my senses;
a concrete palimpsest;
a manuscript complete.