BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
The village of High Lane lies roughly twelve miles to the south and east of Manchester. It sits, to use a tired cliché beloved of estate agents everywhere, at the point where city meets country. Here some 6000 residents make their home at the very edge of the Greater Manchester conurbation. Despite straddling the busy A6, High Lane enjoys an unusual situation within the wider Stockport Borough to which it technically belongs. Approaching from the north there is a definite rural feel as the main road climbs through hedge-lined fields, making its way to Buxton and the hills and dales beyond.
Of the countless drivers who pass by each day, most probably don’t even notice High Lane. Anyone turning off the A6 will likely find themselves surprised by the quiet lanes and village church. The Macclesfield canal meanders through the meadows, gaily-painted narrowboats chugging unhurriedly by. A village grocer’s store sells its wares by the roadside. I don’t know how long it’s been there but it probably looks much the same now as seventy-six years ago, when a Luftwaffe bomber slammed into a nearby field to earn the dubious distinction of becoming the only enemy aircraft to be shot down over what is now Greater Manchester.
The villagers like High Lane. They want to preserve it. So they were understandably angry when they got wind of a council plan to change forever the complexion of the peaceful little place they are happy to call home.
As part of a scheme known as the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), each of the ten boroughs within that county was asked to suggest areas for development, to help meet the much publicised need for housing. Ever-so-quietly the council held a consultation. Developers, landowners, businesses and residents were asked to submit sites considered “suitable for housing or employment development”. The borough contains a not inconsiderable number of ‘brownfield’ sites, ideal land upon which to build many of the single-occupancy homes so desperately needed. Yet when the council submitted its GMSF draft plan for consideration, a proposal to build as many as 4000 new houses on greenbelt land at High Lane was unveiled.
The community mobilised instantly. Heated meetings were held at the tiny village hall and a campaign group was formed. Four thousand extra homes would effectively double the size of the village. The already creaking local infrastructure would collapse. Most importantly of all, hitherto protected greenbelt land would be lost forever.
Last weekend things came to a head. At eleven o’clock in the morning on a rainy January Saturday, the villagers gathered to march on the town hall and register their views. I watched the protest pass. Several hundred people: men, women, children and attendant labradors trooped by, placards held high for all to see. Motorists beeped their horns and the protesters cheered and waved. There was a small police presence: a couple of friendly coppers in a van arrived, making sure the throng was able to safely negotiate a busy road junction. It was a good-natured affair and it passed entirely without incident. Not ‘mostly’, not ‘for the main part’. Entirely. They turned up, they made their feelings known, and then they went home.
Compare and contrast with the tediously predictable scenes whenever any of the more vocal political groups don’t get their way. We’ve all seen the footage. The swollen mobs descending on the capital, blowing their silly bloody whistles. We’ve seen the helicopters hover overhead, watching as the latest rent-a-mob, looking for all the world like a 1980s football crowd, surges angrily through the streets. We’ve seen what happens later in the day, when the lager has flowed and the tensions have risen too far. When the police, unable to do right for doing wrong are finally given no choice. We’ve seen the windows go through in McDonalds and Starbucks, the missiles hurled at the horses and the businesses destroyed by fire. The cowering passers by and terrified shopworkers, thrust, on £9.15 an hour, into the front line against massed ranks of snarling, violent class warriors.
The right to protest is a vital one. It keeps the lawmakers on their toes and our democracy strong. We’ve always had a healthy disrespect for our rulers in the UK; long may it continue. Importantly, though, there is a line that should never be crossed. Protest, by all means, but do so without resorting to mindless destruction. Each time the professional protesters hijack the legitimate concerns of others, they hammer another nail into the coffin of our hard-won liberty.
We live in an age of fear. Ever-more restrictive rules are put in place every time a terrorist gets through. Knee-jerk legislation to remove another of our freedoms is enacted and updated (we can hardly expect the politicians to actually do something constructive about those who wish to harm us, can we?). The usual suspect bunch of risible anarcho-tossers with their masks, their drums, their whiteboy dreads, their juggling, their crappy German Army surplus jackets and their indescribably foolish sixth form ideologies are, by accident or design, doing their level best to take away the rights of the rest of us.
Not one of the High Lane protesters carried an expletive-laden sign. They didn’t dress as vaginas, scream about unrelated causes or damage other people’s property. They didn’t get pissed, smash up the community and terrorise the innocent. I’m not sure what the cost of policing the event came to, but I’ll bet it wasn’t much. Likewise the clean-up operation – I’d actually be surprised if there was one.
And you know what? Unlike the ranting detergent intolerants who discredit every cause they claim to represent, they just might have had an effect. GMSF officials are said to be ‘uneasy’ about the draft proposals. Rumours abound that the plans may be scaled back. It’s early days but the signs are looking good. The High Lane residents should be very proud. They did a great job. And all without a single police horse being maimed.
Matthew Corrigan is a Country Squire Guest Writer and a superb author whose excellent novel OSPREY shines a satirical light on a dodgy politician with a flying wind turbine scam. His books can be found here