I spent yesterday in the village of High Bickginton, which hosts the best example of localism in action I have seen.
Villagers are driving forward a fantastic development – by local people, for local people – which is set to deliver affordable housing, workspace, employment opportunities and community facilities.
I was there with a colleague, supporters of the project and a journalist from Planning magazine who is writing a feature on High Bickington (I hope as an example of how local action and partnership working can deliver the amenities communities are calling for).
The work to turn Little Bickington Farm into community-owned housing and workshops has taken a decade to bring forward. In that time, 200 have people become members of the Community Property Trust, which is acting as the developer responsible for delivering the project. In a village of only 800 residents, that’s a level of engagement many local authorities can only dream of.
One of the things that struck me about the visit is that the project owes a great deal to the persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness of a few committed people over the years. People like trust chairman and parish councillor David Brown, who stuck with it after the original planning application to deliver housing on the site was turned down following a planning inquiry in 2006.
David said during his interview that getting through the planning process has cost the trust something like £500,000 – an eye-watering amount, which would have caused many ordinary folk to walk away from the project before a brick was laid.
It is estimated (conservatively) that more than 10,000 unpaid hours have been given in support of the project, through activities like the creation of a community woodland which has seen thousands of tree planted in the village.
And there’s been more than £1.6m in support from a range of backers, including Devon County Council and the HCA.
In High Bickington, localism’s champions have a great example of how community-driven projects can deliver extraordinary results.
But High Bickington hasn’t been built in a day, and everyone connected with the scheme will need to reflect on the reasons for that if this project is to be replicated in other parts of the country.