The short-changing of Spalding – a lesson for other rural towns.
In 2003 I wrote a letter to the local press “Wake Up Spalding we are being short-changed”. About two weeks later I was approached by an irate local conservative councillor disappointed that I had dared to send such a letter and implying it would hurt me. They were talking rubbish but the letter was never published. What I write now is a lesson that should be learned by other rural areas as they see expansion. At this moment in time I myself plan to move away from the area into a rural town that I perceive is being subject to a similar but different type and period of expansion, Amble in Northumberland.
Spalding has grown over many centuries, as a port, and then a hub for Agricultural transport as the railway came to Spalding in the nineteenth century. It has seen the growth of food processing as part of a key hub essential in ensuring the country is fed. That expansion has always needed more people and we see a matching growth in business activity.
Throughout my lifetime (born 1967) and especially from the 1980’s Spalding has seen a massive net migration in of people from both other areas of the UK and from abroad. Spalding has seen people moving out of cities and into the area for retirement, especially from London. We also saw migration of people from industrial areas decimated by closures in manufacturing, mining and steel such as Sheffield, Doncaster and Durham. We saw sizeable migrations from South Africa, Poland and then the whole of Eastern Europe. These various migrations happened at increasing speed and were made up of two groups, transient residents that rotated back to their origins and permanent settlers. The former can be problematic in that the official population is in reality way lower than the actual.
The largest purpose of migrating to Spalding was and still is work. Each worker contributes in taxes in various forms and in the revenue they earn for the local economy that is also taxed and in their expenditure, which is also taxed. This is important to consider when I answer the question, “How was Spalding short-changed?”
Spalding has been steadily short-changed by a massive lack of investment in services and infrastructure compared to the growth of both its population and people. The short-changing has not just been from government but also from some aspects of business. It was also short-changed by poor planning.
Utilities came under pressure, in the case of water a lack of pressure. The water supply to my home is increasingly subject to low pressure and brief breakdowns in supply are not unusual. Water supply for residential, business and agriculture is not being secured at a fast enough rate. Drainage and sewage also have their challenges. Electricity supply has had problems as more and more premises were tagged onto old substations and transformers until they blew up. Indeed some frosty days the cables beneath the road in some parts of the town ran warm. Electricity is still problematic as some developments cannot progress to full capacity as they await improved supply and substations. Flood prevention largely runs on the investment of prior generations and past good decisions.
Roads and public transport mostly declined in standard of the former and availability of the later. Rail and bus services are inadequate and not suitable to the local demand of early and late work, let alone location. Outside the town area in the surrounding countryside there is clearly a policy of deliberate neglecting of some roads to prioritise others. Schools , healthcare, social services have not been expanded adequately. Doctors have not operated an adequate level of service way before covid. Maternity services are woefully inadequate. Police numbers have dropped considerably compared to population since the 1970’s. Just recalling the police homes from that era and you realise it exceeded 40.
Those in the villages surrounding Spalding are frequently worse off than the town due to poor investment and this is ironic when you consider that the parish precept means they pay a bit more in tax.
Planning and housebuilding has been a very mixed experience. I have seen houses built in terrible places on historic pits and over running silt. When I challenged one councillor on this he scoffed, “they are built on rafts the houses won’t subside.” No but the sewage and water pipes are not. What I feel is an immense failing is the preference to allow too many large and four bedroom houses that are beyond the affordability of the people you wish to do the essential work in the area whether it be services, farming or the food industry. Look at the grand new builds in Highstock Lane, Gedney Hill and ask yourself who locally can afford this? This is a situation replicated in many rural villages and towns throughout the country. Unless the limited resources of land and new housebuilding are put intensively into affordable homes only for a fixed period we will not improve . In year end April 2021 their were 8.6 newbuilds per 1000 households in predominantly rural areas and 5.3 completions per 1000 households in predominantly urban areas. The difference will not have been driven by affordable housing available and affordable to local people. If we add to this the rental market and the largely unregulated multiple occupancy rentals we see a community that has largely been short-changed by local housing policy.
Development has seen a reduction in the number of retailers selling petrol and diesel from double figures to five despite a large increase in road transport. This means that the running out of diesel and petrol locally in Spalding for short periods has been an increasing occurrence over the last 20 years. Already I fear we are behind the curve with electric charging points and the infrastructure of supply required.
It is not just local and national government that has short-changed Spalding it is also a change in business that has been to the detriment of the community. This is because we have seen a migration of employment power from locally owned businesses that were fully invested in the local community to large corporates who largely pay lip service to community investment. In the past we have seen business owners support events, be involvement in local social and political life, live in the community and give that most precious of things, time. Spalding and the surrounding area still benefits from the legacy of the good works and institutions set up by these people. This involvement did not continue as ownership changed to large corporates. Indeed, under the usual corporate pressures we saw a race to the bottom in pay fuelled by a ready supply of both temporary and permanent people moving into the area willing to work all hours at low rates. This massive explosion of population in the late 90’s and into the noughties crippled the services, and impacted on infrastructure. Past generations of business owners would have invested their people, money and skills into the community but corporates do not have the same local interest except for PR stunts and doing things that “look good” on the face of it but have no longer term commitment.
Spalding has also been short-changed politically. In the past many local politicians were intertwined with local business and as such were invested in the local community. Such entwinement is problematic nowadays as we question motives and seek corruption rather than good in people’s actions. This means that a new type of politician entered local politics, and the telling weakness of this is hearing and reading their words when you see “I” used more than “we”. In this way Spalding was short-changed by both business and local politicians. My point regarding the latter can be summed up by a local politician that said to me without blinking, “I am elected to tell people what is good for them.” I have seen too many local politicians respond to criticism with personal diatribes rather than reasoned arguments. The problem Spalding has is that it is in the south of the county and when you look at county investment in infrastructure and services there is a clear visible improvement the further north you go towards the ivory towers of Lincoln. In the meantime we frequently hear of “jam tomorrow”.
In conclusion Spalding and the surrounding area has suffered shortfalls in every service, every piece of infrastructure. It has also suffered shortfalls in business social and financial capital being invested in the communities outside of those businesses. There has also been a shortfall in local political competence in preventing all this happening. At the same time the revenues contributed by people and businesses in the area to the public purse have massively increased. The greater Spalding area has literally been short-changed.