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It’s 2020: We need to care more about this glorious county of Norfolk we live in

PUBLISHED: 23:23 04 January 2020 | UPDATED: 23:23 04 January 2020

Norfolk is such a beautiful county - how about we try and keep it that way in 2020?

Norfolk is such a beautiful county - how about we try and keep it that way in 2020?

Archant

Keith Skipper has a simple message as we begin 2020 - to show that we really care about the future of Norfolk

I had hoped to launch a fresh decade of these Norfolk meanderings on a little wave of optimism created out of an obvious need to care more about how and where we live.

Alas, vital questions pushed to a global forefront by all manner of climate catastrophes still seem likely to be ignored by too many of those with power and influence to address them urgently.

I have long believed in the potential significance of genuinely local campaigns towards an international drive for proper environmental awareness, summed up neatly by the old rural adage "If each before their doorstep swept, the village would be clean".

Perhaps recent history should have warned me against placing faith in my native corner. The Norfolk of my lifetime has fed many a rustic fancy even while the past was being torn up in pursuit of increased profits ad food production.

This double-edged programme came to a head in the 1980s when the pace of change turned into something akin to a gallop with hedges ripped up and ancient woodlands disappearing faster than ever before.

Meanwhile, gentrified values built on phoney rural nostalgia, much of it spread by glossy brochures from shameless estate agents and cosy television dramas full of thatched cottages and happy serfs, colonised many of our better-looking coastal and countryside corners.

As more development juggernauts waited for a signal to advance, the most blatant let-rip merchant of 'em all moved into overdrive. Nicholas Ridley, secretary of state for the environment, made a complete mockery of his government's pledge of less centralisation and more local freedom.

He convinced planners in predominately rural areas that there was little point in opposing applications for major blots on the green landscape even if Ridley & Co were furnished with acres of objections and plenty of valid reasons for them.

That has set the tone for governments of different shades to regularly preach blatantly expansionist policies with alluring texts such as "We must build out of recession!", "We desperately need millions more houses!" and "Let's put the bricks of prosperity in place!".

Over 30 more years of field-eating after the Ridley rampage. Whitehall arrogance too often backed by utterly subservient local government. There have been disturbing instances of Norfolk parish, town, borough, district and county councillors unable to tell the difference between a golf course and a building site.

Our MPs, mostly Conservative, and bodies supposed to be fighting tooth and nail for the character and soul of a rural county have lacked any sort of consistently passionate involvement necessary to render it one of the most important issues of our time.

A few attempts to form the campaigning conscience of a largely reluctant population, a fast-growing population, seem to have foundered on glum acceptance most of them would be only too anxious to grab all the benefits going without bothering to size up any consequences of so much rapid and artificial growth.

That's a grim impasse, a savage summary to carry into 2020. Another blizzard of planning applications covering all parts of the area drawing token objections followed by snorts of resignation. A bizarre lucky dip with a highly dubious prize guaranteed every time.

While places like Caister on the coast and Watton in Breckland feel emotional and physical strains on currently being singled out for even more development they neither want nor need, the Greater Norwich Local Plan might be the stuff of bigger nightmares for many others.

Of course, there could be countless "exciting opportunities to live the Norfolk dream" as about 44,500 new houses go up in the next 20 years when this draft plan is approved.

Naturally, people in Norwich, South Norfolk and Broadland will be invited to have their say. Hopefully, extra infrastructure required will be ready in time.

I assume due consideration will be given to increased traffic with likelihood of more accidents, pollution, congestion, parking and roadworks.

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What about bigger pressures on schools, doctor's surgeries and hospitals?

And green spaces for recreation and relaxation?

There are also little matters such as our much-vaunted "Quality of Life" and "Community Cohesion". Will they have proved strong enough by 2040 to see off this and other hurricanes of change? When will Norfolk attempt to make big decisions independent of Westminster?

Just one more question worth asking as the field eaters keep coming: Does all this environmental vandalism and long-term denial really make any sense?

MY ANNUAL REPORT

I retired some time ago as a serial non-achiever in the Annual Resolution Stakes.

"Rider unseated on approaching first fence" used to be the inevitable summary before January found any sort of stride. It may have gone back to a rural childhood.

Sound judges of practical potential sized up my puny efforts as a farm hand and suggested they might as well make do with what they'd got or just wait for the next generation.

Similar sentiments barbed with dark humour stalked our family hearth when I was banned from cheese-toasting operations for trying to read a book at the same time and sent to bed without any tea for boiling an egg in a kettle.

Confidence-shaking interludes at primary school included the role of gramophone winder while all others preened and pranced with their country dancing. There's no need to go into classroom chastisement at the age of 15 for brilliant impressions of teachers but lamentable marks in most subjects they taught.

Technical matters continued to hold terrors throughout my media career as teleprinters, typewriters and anything with knobs, lights, buttons and wires played me up.

I still shudder with embarrassment at the number of outstanding studio interviews sent gurgling down the pan by the simple process of failing to turn on the recording machine.

I moved on to convincingly fail a series of driving tests in and around Norwich before seeing the light - I think it was red - and announcing my retirement on the Hellesdon crossroads outside Asda,

Other supermarkets were available but I realised every little helps when it comes to improving Norfolk road safety. I knew BOGOF meant Bail Out, Go On Foot.

Similar weaknesses and shortcomings earned me delightful epithets like "different", "daft", "dozy" and "next door to useless" over testing Norfolk years. No wonder I eventually decided not to set myself up for even more ridicule in my anecdotage.

I take each new year as a clean sheet - and simply wait to see how long it takes to fill with silly smudges. But they're my silly smudges and of no real interest to anyone else.

I don't want "must do better" plastered all over my annual report. It took long enough to fully accept "couldn't do worse"

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