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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Not In Jane's Backyard, Part II

Jane Austen died without finishing Sanditon, her novel about a developer trying to turn a sleepy small town into a bustling seaside resort. But a not dissimilar development drama seems to be playing out in real life—in Hampshire, England, not far from the cottage in Chawton where Austen wrote Sanditon.


More than two years ago, residents of Alton, the (comparatively) large town near Austen’s village, mobilized to oppose a planned development that would have put twelve hundred new homes and an array of other amenities on a site called Chawton Park Farm. In January, the local council finally abandoned the plan, and campaigners celebrated.


But not so fast! Just as the Chawton Park Farm development was being ushered out one door, the Neatham Down development was being invited in by another. And locals are just as upset about this proposal, which again calls for putting at least a thousand new homes and possibly an array of other amenities on hundreds of acres of green space across the highway from Chawton.


Residents say the new community would endanger the area’s natural beauty and overburden roads, school, and medical facilities. More than seventeen hundred people have signed an online petition opposing the development, and reaction to this element of the local council’s master plan seems to have been overwhelmingly negative: “Appalled that you're even considering building on this land,” reads one typical online comment.


Council documents suggest that housing needs are driving the decision, and local opponents seem to be settling in for the long haul. “The next step is to engage a team of professionals—planning consultants and a legal team—to fight the over-development of Alton through the next phases of the planning process,” says the website of Save Neatham Down. “To that end, we are looking for donations.”


“These beautiful footpaths were once walked by Jane Austen and Gilbert White,” Save Neatham Down co-founder Abigail Hills told a local newspaper. “Are we really going to concrete over that?”


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