Norfolk Day is a good time to take stock of county's future
PUBLISHED: 11:07 16 June 2018
Let's celebrate our county on Norfolk Day - but let's think about its future too, says Keith Skipper.
I love a supposedly true Norfolk yarn starring a prominent local councillor confronted by someone extremely concerned over the way massive developments are blatantly disfiguring the fair face of our county.
This worried rural stalwart outlined his deeply-held objections after another rash of major housing applications had been nodded through at district level with hardly a murmur of dissent. “We badly need a moratorium!” he exclaimed.
The councillor weighed up the suggestion carefully, called on all his vast experience in local chambers over many years and replied quietly but earnestly:
“Ah, but exactly where would we build it?”
Highly appropriate, methinks, as an adroit summary of the lamentable manner in which widespread destruction of Norfolk’s precious character, envy of so many other places, is being sacrificed in favour of bumper profits and political dogma at the expense of local identity, proud heritage and community cohesion.
Disturbingly, most Norfolk residents, comparative newcomers as well as hardened natives, appear to have given up trying to provoke a moratorium or anything else designed to halt complacent Westminster representatives, easily-led planners, subservient councillors at all levels and dragoons of lip-smacking developers leaving no brick unturned in their quest to meet ridiculously arbitrary housing targets.
A murky mixture of complacency, denial and downright apathy at grass-roots level continues to forestall hopes of an open and honest discussion about what might be genuinely needed rather than gratuitously accepted.
The county branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has made brave efforts to inspire a closer look at what’s going on and how it could yet be possible to put a brake on the development bandwagon.
Their Vision for Norfolk sparked new interest in an old argument – but nothing has changed. The vast majority still believe massive schemes carry enough long-term benefit to outweigh any amounts of ugly disruption and character assassination.
So, where to look for a desperately-needed lift of the encircling gloom? I want to throw out a suggestion genuinely intended to stir up more of a meaningful mardle about the future of a special place under siege from destructive elements largely fashioned and fanned in Westminster.
The first Norfolk Day on July 27, initiated by this newspaper, will pay fulsome tribute to local pride, tradition and community spirit for starters. Well, as all three are clearly under immense threat, it must be possible for some sort of counter-blast to feature on an occasion meant to make us all think a bit deeper about where we live, work or visit regularly.
I don’t propose a demonstration with bodies chained to concrete mixers or picket lines around any remaining green spaces between Aylsham and Cromer. I am not advocating a bonfire of effigies representing politicians and business figures from all levels readily identified with landscape-blotting. I see no merit in spreading the kind of commotion and upheaval being complained about in the first place.
This is still civilised Norfolk, not a tarty younger sister of the Home Counties. We like to make our important points with dignified vehemence coated in plenty of home-grown wit and dry humour. We like to say what we think – and even, occasionally, think what we say.
With those qualities in mind, I’m sure the EDP would love to hear any bright ideas from readers who feel the urge to use a much-publicised gala celebration to highlight irreparable damage being wrought on their priceless patch.
I celebrate Norfolk’s qualities every day. I also bemoan everyone and everything threatening to destroy them. That dual mission took on extra impetus 30 years ago when I helped set up and then took part in an uplifting Give A Day For Norfolk gathering at Wymondham College.
Friends of the Earth rubbed shoulders with the National Farmers’ Union. Planning
chiefs and landowners exchanged views with traffic experts and nature lovers. Fear of a future without enough respect for our quality of life was the bond uniting a big turn-out.
Asked to set this important occasion in motion, I stressed we were not a collection of old buffers, middle-aged , middle-class missionaries and dewy-eyed idealists. We formed the campaigning conscience of a largely reluctant population, a fast-growing population, many of whom would be only too anxious to grab all benefits going without bothering to size up any consequences of so much rapid and artificial growth.
Thirty years on, those kind of sentiments demand a fresh airing – especially on Norfolk Day.