SO spring has sprung here in Ayrshire: fresh green shoots, bouncing lambs, buds on bushes and ... what’s that noise? Oh, it’s workmen and cement mixers. Yes, once again it’s build-your-house-in-the-country time and don’t we just love those exclusive new houses in greenfields? Of course, let’s put aside the awkward fact that they’re not fields any more but, hey, we can pretend, can’t we? Anyway, they’re so much better than those boring seventies Wimpeys. And don’t they give the new streets such pretty rustic names like Meadow and Green? If we’re being honest, it’s only a marketing ploy because the meadows and greens have been paved over, but who cares? Well, I do. I care very much and I’m hoping other people do too.

At the moment it’s South Ayrshire Council that’s infuriating me. They want to build on the countryside like there’s a shortage of barren brownfield sites. Yes, I know they desperately need money. Don’t we all! So we can empathise with being skint – most of us have been there or are still there right now. But that doesn’t mean we have an automatic knee-jerk reaction to the situation and sell off the family silver for a fraction of what it’s worth. Agricultural land is precious and should be cherished, especially as we are about to leave the EU and may have to fall back on more of our own resources. Once green fields are built on, they’re gone for ever. Acting as if our productive land is infinite is a huge mistake.

“People need houses,” is the popular cry. Yes, they do. But people need a lot of things such as greenfields, wildlife, trees, and animals grazing. More and more I’m reading articles that say the answer to the acute stress so many of us suffer from is to reconnect with nature; get out into the countryside and take time to breathe. So why is such a low value put on Ayrshire’s countryside? I feel we are regressing, going back to the bad old days of the sixties and seventies when people had little understanding of conservation.

Looking at South Ayrshire Council’s Development Plan part LDP2, I was incredulous at the reasons given for proposed housing developments. Here are some examples. The village of Loans will be joined to Troon by building housing estates on the wetland between them, improving the area’s appearance. Really? Says who? And what about the geese who flock there during migration? I had a McEnroe you-cannot-be-serious outburst when I read that the new housing estate at present being built on to the village of Symington is causing traffic problems, so building more new estates there will help solve the problem. A novel approach indeed. Symington has a new swathe of five-bedroom houses being built and they don’t come cheap – from £312,000 to £368,000. Will it be locals who buy them?

At Bogend Toll the council wants to “soften and define boundaries”, ie build a new village, which I suspect will stray on to greenfields. And poor Monkton! Yet more houses are to be built in expectation of the Spaceport. I say never count your chickens.

And lastly, I’ll mention the council’s, er ... innovative idea of building housing estates on two of its golf courses. Golfers aren’t pleased and who can blame them? So much for encouraging us to take up sports to tackle the obesity crisis.

I wonder what Ayrshire’s most famous son would have to say about the desecration of his beloved countryside. Well, in point of fact he did say it over 200 years ago to a mouse: I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion, he told the wee creature, Has broken Nature’s social union.

And as usual, Burns hit the nail squarely on the head. It’s time South Ayrshire Council’s Planning Department sat up and paid attention to his words.
Frances Smith
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