When we couldn’t travel, go to shops, doctors, entertainment and education we got through on what we had locally – that brought us back together, following the rules for each other and appreciating our public servants. Many of us embraced new technologies and adapted to new ways of working.
Those values of co-operation, of community and compassion that underpin Norfolk are the values that we need to cherish. But what we are increasingly seeing is new housing developments being slapped down over rural Norfolk without enough thought for community, without thought for sustainability and no regard for community cohesion. The assumption is that those who live there will drive to work, drive to take children to school, drive to shop for everything they don’t buy online. Not having to provide the community infrastructure avoids those costs for developers but costs us the values that make Norfolk. Too many developers are creating housing estates, not communities.
Without our rural areas, villages and market towns having the community infrastructure they need – shops, pubs, post offices, community organisations, libraries and mobile libraries and child-care, families are forced to travel whether they want to or not. Public transport in Norfolk is notoriously inadequate. Those who can afford it and are able, have to own a car. Many can’t afford cars or can’t drive and get stuck. Rural isolation, mental health problems and the lack of local jobs and services combine to make life truly difficult. After years of austerity, so much has been taken away entirely or moved further away and less accessible. Connectivity in our rural areas has decreased and our health has suffered.
The need to drive, leads to the consequent covering of increasing swathes of Norfolk with new roads. It becomes a toxic cycle – because we’ve made communities unviable those who live there go elsewhere for services. Going elsewhere reinforces the decline of the place. There are magnificent examples of communities that have saved their pubs, local shops and other local facilities. Sadly, too few as others close and are converted into homes. Our market towns are increasingly being left without a single bank, limiting choices and making trading even tougher for small businesses. The successes of community empowerment show the way and Labour’s ‘Revaluing Rural’ takes its inspiration from the people taking a stand for the things that make Norfolk. We must support those institutions and support those people.
Norfolk is a place to grow up and grow old so we need a ready supply of quality homes local people and those who choose to make Norfolk their home and their community, can afford. Mixed tenure is crucial, and homes need to be truly affordable.
Norfolk is a beautiful place to grow up and grow old. So much of what we value is at risk and those things that we so cherish are not equally available to all. COVID showed us the importance of community, local services, decent living conditions and open spaces. It’s time to revalue and reprioritise those things that make Norfolk the place we love, to safeguard them for future generations and to ensure that all of Norfolk’s residents have equal opportunity to experience that quality of life.