OPINION: Destruction of our green county cannot be blueprint for the future

Sunset salute for Norfolk in gentle and unhurried mode on Hunstanton seafront

Sunset salute for Norfolk in gentle and unhurried mode on Hunstanton seafront - Credit: Trevor Allen

One of Norfolk patriots’ most endearing little habits is to pay homage to all the latest fads to embrace the true spirit of progress in which they are enticingly wrapped - and then shuffle off back along the homely traditional track.

Critics call that self-delusion. I prefer to see it as a shrewd tactic at the core of a self-preservation programme designed to fend off shrill cries to “move with the times,” voiced manly by those with vested interests in items Norfolk can well do without, like manic motorways, mass tourism , even more abjectly sprawling housing estates and towering masts mucking up our glorious skyline.

Such a radically defensive approach does have its hazards, not least when jibes about being out of touch, ignoring the necessary and falling victim to rampant nostalgia degenerate all too swiftly into vitriolic abuse.

I noted dark mutterings welling up behind me recently when I cast derisive doubts over yet another “visionary” campaign to haul lag-behind Norfolk into the fast lane where ambitious areas belong. Apparently, I should have accepted it all as inevitable and irresistible.

Well, we’ve heard much of it before in the name of overdue riches, a string of transport schemes, including the much-opposed Western Link road, dualling the Acle Straight, with so many negative environmental implications, and speeding up trains between Norwich and London.

We are assured by Transport East leaders that by co-ordinating their wishes across three counties, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, their voices will be better heard in Whitehall, thus making funding for expensive exploits more likely. Such faith in a government bound to be struggling to even make ends meet for a considerable period must be severely tested when it comes to a 30-year draft strategy.

I did find a few crumbs of comfort in overdue moves to improve regional public transport. Even so, I refuse to believe anyone lucky enough to live in Norfolk or more delectable parts of Suffolk and Essex, could be clamouring to get to the bustling capital a few minutes faster by rail. Cheaper fares. comfortable seats and total ban on passengers loudly revealing they are on a train ought be more pressing priorities.

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Biggest flaw in the whole exercise is the way it adds to Norfolk’s glaring reputation as a “Car County” at a time when cutting down congestion, pollution seriously concerning accident figures and environmentally damaging projects demand top billing.

The eternal battle between ecology and economy, so often at the heart of soul-searching debates over future of locations like the Broads, and now an inescapable topic for constant digestion across the globe, cannot continue its one-sided slide towards destruction of nature.

Some of my best friends suggest I live on the battlements of Fortress Norfolk, eager to repel all bringers of enlightenment to a stubbornly dark land. Such summary judgment could be based on an occasional refusal to clamber aboard the latest express roaring across the communications superhighway.

I do not drive a car. I shun mobile phones and satellite television. I prefer joined-up writing for personal letters. Yes, I’m an exception to the general rule but that’s a proud Norfolk trait worthy of some applause, surely, instead of immediate condemnation. It’s remarkable the number of people who secretly admire old-fashioned renegades but do not find it expedient to say so in public.

I met many such double-edged characters during my years as local press reporter and radio presenter, along with cheerful stints as after-dinner speaker, entertainer and a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, mixing squit and polish on a proudly parochial platform.

My big advantage in discussions, both formal and off-the-cuff, with MPs, business leaders, landed gentry, councillors and anyone else tuning in was an ability to offer telling comparisons between how the old place used to be and how it has changed during my lifetime - and not always for the better.

While most of my little “Cherish Norfolk charms” sermons collected gentle smiles and nods, some listeners preferred to remind me I should be flattered so many others wanted to live among us or visit to sample one of the last outposts of civilisation. I also got the old line about Norfolk being such a big place it could take anything developers might throw at it without surrendering authentic character.

Strong worries on that score continue to be vindicated by persistent plundering of our county’s green assets by forces of unsolicited change, much of it grotesquely damaging and clearly unwarranted.

Local politicians at all level parrot each other with “ government policy” and “vital for our economy” choruses mingled with latest banal slogans about “levelling up,” “life in the fast lane” and “have your say.”

The Norfolk Resistance Movement forms the much-needed conscience of a fast-growing population most of whom are happy to grab any benefits going without giving a second thought about consequences of excessive development.