In my recent research project for my dissertation I was considering the stifling effect village conservation areas have on contemporary expression in English villages. In my home village, Moreton Pinkney, the conservation area directive favours the form of any new development to be pastiche remakes of a building type 200 years old. I was sure this was not necessary to maintain ‘character’, that in fact it was destructive and would set all villages on the same trajectory – towards the unobtainable aesthetic of ‘the countryside ideal’.
It became clear that the conservation area has become a kind of crème de la crème appellation, similar to that of Champagne, or Balsamico of Modena – this is not just a country cottage, it is a country cottage in a conservation area. Thus, it carries added cultural capital. In a capitalist economy, this cultural capital also carries a monetary value. Village properties are materialisations of ‘the countryside ideal’ – they are ‘a place in the country’. While attracting wealthy urbanites, resultant inflated house prices exclude local families from owning property in the village, resulting in the renowned close-knit village community being transformed into a generally deserted commuter settlement.
The conservation village is partly an urban creation, an opportunity to preserve the last few refuges from modern (urban) life. Just as the farmers’ market temporarily gives escape to the city dweller, the commuter finds sanctuary in a conservation village at weekends. Because conservation villages are prime commuter territory, they have become pockets of urbanity suspended in a rural landscape.
Nick Woodward. Final year student Studio 6.