OPINION: Gentle optimism and thoughtful behaviour should be tourism mantra

Big stretch of relief to find a natural refuge on Stiffkey Marshes

Big stretch of relief to find a natural refuge on Stiffkey Marshes - Credit: Trevor Allen

There are times when weighing up important matters close to home can prove far more stimulating and useful than trying to make sense of national and global issues dominating our newspapers and airwaves.

As an honorary Crab since 1988, I don’t take north Norfolk’s special qualities, including much-envied areas of outstanding natural beauty, for granted. Nor can I ignore growing pressures to exploit them more in the name of reviving a tourism industry clearly damaged by the virus pandemic.

With Cromer festive season lights and fireworks still dazzling, and infections continuing to hit dangerous levels, it did seem rather presumptuous of holiday trade leaders to polish crystal balls and forecast a bumper 2022 season for the area.

I can understand anxiety to make up for lost time and revenue but surely extreme caution must continue to be exercised by visitors and hosts alike. Gentle optimism and thoughtful behaviour rather than impatient bravado bordering on greed can help both sides come to terms with a new era of mixing health concerns with holiday pleasures.

Scope for reservations as well over comments from Richard Kershaw, sustainable growth and employment portfolio holder at North Norfolk District Council. He revealed his part in talks on “widening the tourism offering with plans to bring tourism inland and looking for ways to lengthen the season beyond summer.”

Again, that smacks of indecent haste dressed up as positive marketing, stoking old fears about tourism being a handy servant but an overbearing master. Coastal traffic congestion, chaotic parking and environmental damage are key worries to be tackled ahead of any expansion drive into more pastoral hideaways.

There we are … all-year tourism sharing the load with quieter rural spots must take the growing heat off places like Cromer and Wells and anywhere else where the car is king and under-siege locals merely slavish subjects to its anti-social powers.

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There are plenty of charming country lanes. pretty woodland retreats and homely village pubs crying out for lucrative visits from keen adventurers seeking bucolic versions of Chelsea-on Sea or confirmation that The Archers really is so true to rural life.

As Walter Gabriel’s dear old granny might have said on a warm summer day in Ambridge just after the last war ; “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear … me ole pal, me ole bewty …why don’t people keep away from wheelbarrows and heaps of dung if they know nothing about machinery or cows?.”

We are also being treated to another airing of a long-running debate over the vexed question of how to offer young people a better deal in a part of the county largely dominated by a retirement-led population second homes, holiday lets and a holiday trade economy scarcely aware of the rising cost of local living.

Cley Mill under moody skies .. a popular north Norfolk scene

Cley Mill under moody skies .. a popular north Norfolk scene - Credit: Trevor Allen

There’s been a glaring lack of any kind of haste or honesty when it comes to taking serious action over the most obvious gap in a massive house-building blitz right across our county – an embarrassing lack of affordable homes.

Perhaps the whole sorry business is exacerbated by constant failure to accept “affordable” means vastly different sums to different folk trying to get a foot on the property ladder in a time of ridiculously inflated prices, especially in and around fashionable coastal haunts for second homes and holiday lets.

I have witnessed at first hand over the last 40 years or so a complete drying-up of final drops of community cohesion and proper parochial spirit in too many places along what some call the “seaside stockbroker belt” between Cromer and Hunstanton. It remains pretty alluring but carries an unashamedly exclusive air.

With such images in mind, I find it hard to take seriously a recent call for new homes to stem the exodus of young people from an area where many of them have proud family roots. Steve Blanch, chief executive of North Norfolk District Council, says they are doing everything they can to improve the stock of affordable homes amid fears local families are being priced out.

Well, such fears long turned to uncomfortable fact when a host of similar aspirations in favour of the native cause were aired, well publicised and then disappeared without a trace of any positive action
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One of the biggest barriers blocking the way to fairer and more enlightened agendas are eye-watering numbers tied up in the second highest rate of second and holiday homes in the country, with 6,697, 11.6pc of total housing stock second homes registered in the district in 2020.

“Something must be done” exclaim local MPs, councillors, officers, fed-up residents who have heard it all before – and even some incomers and visitors feeling a trifle guilty about being part of the movement taking the edge off a much-acclaimed place they claim to cherish.