‘Are we doing enough to provide open green spaces in Melton?’
by Alastair McQuillan (Rutland and Melton Green Party)
Sitting on the grass in New Park listening to the test match from the Oval on Monday was an oddly cathartic experience. Our Victorian forebears knew that our town needed ‘green lungs’ to allow them to breathe, enclosing grand parks close to people’s homes that are so precious today.
Now is the time for imaginative thinkers, town planners and local groups, such as Melton Transition, to seize the opportunity that has been catalysed by the pandemic.
The move to online shopping has transformed high streets up and down the land. Too many politicians respond with deep conservatism, trying to slow down and reverse the change, demanding higher taxes on online retail and pointless initiatives to “save our high streets”.
This seems to run counter to basic economics: that our town centre needs bustle and car traffic associated with high-value retail and offices to survive, let alone thrive. Inevitably the changing high street means losing some retail spaces, converting some shops into flats, or disused buildings or car parks for more green public spaces would be no bad thing.
While online retail businesses ought to be taxed fairly, it should be recognised that these changes are happening as they are in the interest of consumers. As a town we need to ride this wave of change rather than trying to swim against it, this means more emphasis on the social role of our town centre as a meeting place, for eating, drinking, entertainment and hanging out.
As a town, we already have a head start, with a regular programme of organised events. The existing parks and green spaces need our love and attention as important destinations in themselves, but also as part of making going into town a pleasant experience.
As the England middle-order wilts in the afternoon sun, it’s clear there is more to life than pounds per square foot. We need the green spaces and room to breathe that our parks can provide. The value of those cultural and green spaces is hard to price.
Spending the afternoon sitting in our Victorian park I feel like I have glimpsed the potential bright green future for our town, in which we could combine new high-density town centre housing with green spaces, shops and local businesses. All of them walkable, cycle-able, and served by public transport rather than built around cars and car parks. As opposed to the sprawling edge of town estates, turning future Meltonians into a suburban car-dependent diaspora.
As I left the park, England had succumbed to the inevitable defeat. The serenity of the afternoon shattered back to reality by traffic, fumes and congestion.