Still searching for that Norfolk idyll

Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the we

Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the western link road to the Northern Broadway (NDR) gets built. With him are his daughters, Miranda, 12, and Matilda, eight - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

Keith Skipper asks how can we win the battle between ecology and economy?

I have long felt convinced too many of our elected representatives, especially Members of Parliament, create unwieldy rods for their own backs in blatantly gratuitous acceptance speeches.

They salute everyone from Mr Returning Officer to ladies behind the tea urn before promising fervently to represent an entire spectrum of opinion right across the board irrespective of any gaping differences emerging during a hard-fought but fair campaign.

To echo that delightful mawther who glided on at the end of many a Morecambe & Wise television show to thank the studio audience - and us - for tuning into her little shindig that evening. It's a clear message of "And I love you all!"

It should be obvious at any result declaration this all-embracing offer simply won't stick. Several in the room supporting other candidates are unlikely to be convinced their priorities are now in safe hands. Even a smattering of dyed-in-the-wool loyalists will have cause for sharp disagreement over certain issues and votes before a term of office is complete.

I am not suggesting any moment of triumph should be downgraded to a shriek of derision towards opponents - "Take that, you losers, and don't waste your time again!" - but there must be scope for more realistic attitudes both on the victory rostrum and in gatherings below.

It has become obvious how long-running palaver over Brexit has polarised attitudes in an openly nasty way scarcely heard or seen before. Even in more historically genteel and tolerant quarters of north Norfolk. some exchanges in restaurants, pubs, shops and out in the open have forced me to invent excuses and leave.

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A pair of combatants, apparently both of the same political persuasion, claimed to have written to their MP to instruct him how to vote when it comes to some sort of final decision on this vexed "Europe business". Imagine a fresh supply of flying sparks as they realised their starkly contrasting opinions had gone to the same target!

An inflammatory mixture of cynicism, hostility and intolerance stains so much public debate these days, let alone silly little squabbles better left simmering behind closed doors. Loudest and rudest voices rise way above logic, reason and respect for other views.

No shortage of rant 'n' rile models on national and international catwalks of blame to stoke these fires of discord and dissent. It seeps down to unlikely levels and can corrode basic tenets of peaceful co-existence in office, classroom, pub and a host of other regular meeting places.

Cynicism, spiced with a dash of Norfolk wit, hounds reaction to our current district and county councils antics. Every mention of "public consultation" breeds fresh guffaws of hollow laughter to reinforce growing fears of "done deals behind closed doors" climbing to the top of too many agendas.

I was greeted by an old friend with a surprising bit of cinema news earlier this month. "I hear they are making a follow-up to Bridge Over the River Kwai" he announced, waiting to milk the teasing moment before delivering his topical punchline .., "It's called Viaduct Over the River Wensum!"

Norfolk County Council asked the public to pick from a number of options for the missing Western Link to the yet-to-be-really-loved Northern Distributor Road. Votes were duly cast, only for County Hall to ignore the public choice and push for £153m Option C.

That scheme involves blatant intrusion into a much-cherished conservation area and a site of special scientific interest. It will mean a 720-metre long viaduct over the River Wensum. "Don't worry" says the council. "We will mitigate effects by planting trees and creating new habitats".

Such an episode feeds distrust of leading councillors and officers -and their publicity machines - and sits so uneasily next to a long and loud trumpeting of belated but welcome support for a concerted effort to protect our precious environment.

The age-old battle between ecology and economy, crystallised for many in my lifetime by the good and bad waves of challenge and change washing over Broadland, will not end in a dramatic blaze of conversion to the noble call of nature.

It will be gradual acceptance of a need for balance, to take proper care rather than cheap advantage of our good fortune to live and work in so blessed a plot. Perhaps "councillors" will make way for "counsellors" to put us on the road to enlightenment.

Then we may find that missing link to a Norfolk idyll.

SKIP'S ASIDE My extensive daily diaries maintained since the dawn of 1984 are spattered with blots emerging across our Norfolk landscape.

You don't have to be a compulsive chronicler to notice and deeply regret such grim additions. But it does help to build an accurate and comprehensive picture of what's been going on since that year when Orwellian visions were all the rage.

Horror headlines like "Carpet of Concrete", "Field Eaters on the Charge" and "Village to Treble in Size" linger in the memory, especially if they're attached to your home patch.

Even so, hundreds of planning applications destined to damage or even destroy more threads of Norfolk's much-envied character slip by with hardly a murmur.

It could now be a case of widespread apathy bred out of utter exhaustion over protests being ignored at every level of a system blatantly loaded in favour of developers and compliant landowners and backed up by local councillors scared of taking on Westminster.

There've also been none-too-subtle efforts to placate some opponents by scaling down certain schemes clearly pitched to attract maximum publicity with "outrageous" launching labels.

For example, a developer seeks permission to build 750 new homes on the edge of a Norfolk town or large village. Even with promises of "adequate extra infrastructure" and "sensitive treatment for wildlife areas", it's obvious the application will be turned down.

So begins a charm offensive. Locals are urged to have their say at a public consultation where cosy artists' impressions of Enchanted Meadows are on display along with smiling representatives for the developer ready to answer tricky questions.

The biggest inducement to look forward to "a bright and bold tomorrow" is a dramatic fall in the number of dwellings to 300, including 24 "affordable" properties. A few more sweeteners are added to the new mix, probably on an "essentials" list from the start.

The rest is a predictable nod from the council chamber, a few riders added to make sure any lingering worries are met and a vote of thanks for "listening to the people" ..

Hang on, I must be making this up. It can't work like this … can it?