Artificial development in our country is a burning issue
PUBLISHED: 16:50 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:50 12 April 2019
Keith Skipper says the battle to stop artificial development in Norfolk is possibly the county's biggest cunrrent battle
I relish a bit of doorstep banter, especially when the vote-hunters come calling with their rosettes, leaflets, smiles and promises.
There’s no need to be rude when someone wants to sell you something – like religion, double glazing, charitable causes or politics. Just dew diffrunt and that can save a lot of valuable time.
Well-meaning missionaries who ask if I’m ready for the next world get a reminder that I’m still trying to make sense of this one and an invitation to look up Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, Verse 7 - “All the rivers run into the sea, and the sea is not yet full”.
If that doesn’t work, I ask where they live and the best evening to call for a chat about the potential effect of the Indicative Vote System on parish council democracy in the 21st century.
I may slip that one in to liven up the next general election campaign. Another useful ploy to get candidates going is to sing very quietly out of the corner of your mouth, wait for the inevitable query and then deliver a short lecture on the “secret ballad”.
You can couple that with a poignant story of great-great-grandmother who tied herself to the railings. Why did she do that? Because someone stole her bike and she wanted to be there when a policeman arrived to investigate. Norfolk crime figures may well have started with the suffragettes.
Old faithful “It keeps coming up on the doorstep” asks for stronger stomachs to swallow more harsh economic medicine while “We’ll take that one on board” and “We hear what you say” suggest they’re not really interested in your pleas to single the A11, cobble the A140 and ban all lorries from the A47.
Now, all this verbal fun and games should not preclude the odd burst of stark honesty mixed with a probing spirit as we head for city, borough and district elections on May 2. Norfolk county councillors will next be held to account at the polls in 2021. Bet they can’t wait!
Those seeking to retain or win seats early next month must expect awkward questions coated in obvious anger about the way many see Norfolk being horribly disfigured by far too much artificial development. Loss of a county’s unique character, community cohesion and quality of life are at stake.
These are local elections and should brook no hiding behind tame all-purpose pronouncements like “Our hands are tied by national policies” and “People must have somewhere to live”. This is Norfolk’s battle, possibly one of the most significant in recent history, and Norfolk votes should be cast firmly in favour of those ready to fight at all levels.
I suspect vastly inflated numbers of “houses needed” will continue to cloud sensible debate. But it’s hard to ignore the validity of calls for more reasonably-priced homes and social accommodation for those anxious to stay close to local family roots.
Recent figures revealed by the Norfolk branch of the Campaign for Protection of Rural England add timely weight to arguments against excessive building in certain areas. They earmark where over 12,000 new homes could go without eating into precious beauty spots.
Surely our elected representatives can share such enlightenment with their respective council colleagues and officers to add much-needed clarity and fairness to an inevitable avalanche of fresh development bids this summer.
Another major threat is set to be posed by more than a decade of offshore wind farms construction off our coastline due to start soon. Inland communities, with Necton, between Dereham and Swaffham, already an agitated target, say it will see miles of countryside torn up to make way for cable works.
Topics old and new, large and small, from dog-fouling and thoughtless parking to development blight and scary pollution, all deserve extra airings as May elections beckon. The curse of Brexit, of course, will muddy parochial waters but that must not sour the flow of frank but polite exchanges on the doorstep.
As usual, empty vessels will make the most commotion with customary yells of “They’re all the same!” and “Only in it for themselves!” before beating their chests and exclaiming it’s simply not worth the effort to turn out and vote. Sadly, statistics show the extent of such angry apathy on our democratic process.
Happily, candidates are not all the same. Push the best to do even better for Norfolk’s sake.