Just how long will this green crusade last?

Racecourse Plantation has been felled under a commerical logging licence - and developers are set to

Racecourse Plantation has been felled under a commerical logging licence - and developers are set to build 300 new homes on the site - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper asks when will the destruction of our green and pleasant Norfolk end? And who is really set to benefit?

"Green" and "infrastructure" - now there are a couple of labels rarely stuck next to each other, especially in the current manic rush to turn dear old Norfolk into a hideous photostat of everywhere else.

It's an oxymoron up there with "parking" and "thoughtful", "houses" and "community", "railway" and "timetable", "bypass" and "progress", "structure" and "plan" and "consultation" and "democracy".

Yes, a bit on the cynical side, but I have been trying to strip away so much claptrap surrounding the "Whither Norfolk?" debate for the best part of 40 years as journalist, broadcaster and shameless fundamentalist when it comes to standing up for the soul of a very special place.

We've been fed so many spurious figures, promises and so-called reasons for destroying precious strands of priceless character and tradition I am genuinely mystified at the time it's taken to find cause to protest in meaningful numbers.

Global environmental catastrophes are forcing overdue inspections in countless small backyards where apathy, arrogance and tame acquiescence have sprouted like weeds through cracks in the concrete. Even Norfolk is waking up to the blindingly obvious.

However, those of us who have witnessed so much blatant vandalism since the 1980s are forced to wonder just how long this new green crusade will last. Talk is cheap, especially when it's fashionable to follow such an emotive bandwagon, but serious action will prove far more elusive.

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A headline in one of our more thoughtful national magazines with a rural agenda summed up the dilemma in stark fashion: "Growth versus Green - the short-term view always prevails". Coincidently, this newspaper at the same time featured that unlikely "green" and "infrastructure" partnership.

It arose in a report about a new country park to be opened near Norwich after Broadland District Council paid £700,000 for the Houghton Plantation between Felthorpe and Horsford. Council leader Shaun Vincent said: "It's the perfect location to extend our green infrastructure …. It's about people having access to the countryside".

I allowed myself an ironic smile at the way Horsford, next door to that hallowed woodland, has swollen massively under an avalanche of new housing estates given the go-ahead by Broadland council, much of it inevitably smothering fringes of farmland.

Then I had to fight off a grimace on recalling how this same authority paved a way for the old Royal Norwich Golf Club course at Hellesdon, a precious green lung on the city's edge, to add a few more hundred dwellings to its development scorecard.

Other local council records of scant environmental awareness are available, of course, but certain examples are bound to stand out even more readily when clear hints are dropped about pursuing a greener agenda.

To be fair, Broadland councillors did initially reject controversial plans in 2017 for 300 homes on the Racecourse Plantation in Thorpe St Andrew. That decision was reversed last year on appeal with a government inspector ruling such development would not have an adverse impact on biodiversity.

Now campaigners say this development in precious woodland needs to be reconsidered in view of the climate change emergency. Minds are being changed by much more clear evidence against carrying on as usual

With so many extra houses already earmarked for Norwich and immediate surroundings, there must be a good case for sparing special spots like the Racecourse Plantation. Naturally, it will take a big switch of attitudes in Westminster along with softening of local hearts to see the woods for the trees without branching out into building for profit.

Frankly, it's difficult to see Forty Shades of Green soaking into our beleaguered landscape while there's so much loot and destruction attached to "improving our vital infrastructure", A few conscience-salvers, perhaps, and the odd appeasement programme in areas where environmental damage has become a way of life.

Chilling news that Norfolk County Council has paid over £1m for Pump Lane Farm in Weston Longville in order to expunge it completely because it lies on the route of the proposed Norwich Western Link merely underlines how long and rocky the road could be before we see and celebrate the first genuinely green shoots of reparation.

It staggers belief how so many residents, many with vested interests, laud Norfolk's natural qualities to the rafters - but then skulk in the cellars of utter indifference when those very virtues are in peril.

I've a good mind to make a bigger bid for Pump Lane Farm and grow greens!


Don MacKenzie, middle of three talented brothers with countless tales to tell, allowed me a moment of sweet revenge at a local fete some years ago.

I was at Buxton to do the opening honours at a fundraising afternoon for the village school, where Don was a popular headmaster. Part of the deal was permission for me to give "Sir" a gentle twist of the ear before his adoring public.

An overdue response to his slightly more purposeful cuff of my lobe during his productive time at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham during the late 1950s. As usual, I had probably spiced a witty remark with far too much cheek towards a highly-respected senior pupil.

That often-shared yarn topped my bill as we bade farewell to genial Don at prolonged celebrations for a full and valuable life. He died recently at 78, his brothers Andrew and John leading tributes amid a family symphony packed with music and laughter.

The Mardlng MacKenzies, all former Hamond's scholars, put together what must be some kind of entertaining record with a hat-trick of amusing after-dinner speeches at the old boys' annual reunions in Swaffham.

Retired Methodist minister Andrew completed this proud family feat by taking the mike in 2004. Brother John was on his feet the year before. Brother Don started this memorable sequence in 2002- and returned by popular demand more recently with another delightfully droll off-the-cuff offering. Andrew attended Hamond's from 1948 until 1953. He left to join the RAF but later trained for the Methodist ministry and went to Kenya as a missionary. He retuned home to take up posts in Derbyshire and Scotland before retirement.

Don and John went into teaching, both becoming headmasters. Don, at Hamond's 1952-59, completed his classroom career at Buxton, near Aylsham,, while his younger brother - one of my contemporaries at grammar school from 1955 until 1962 - was a headmaster in Kent and an influential figure on the music scene.

Another familiar face will be missing at this May's reunion dinner. Jim Baines, who served as dentist to generations of Dereham patients, died recently at 87.