OPINION: Will levelling up in Norfolk become an operation in dumbing down?

Steady progress has long been the Norfolk way at the heart of a rich agricultural history

Steady progress has long been the Norfolk way at the heart of a rich agricultural history. Now strong reminders are needed to help in the fight to maintain a vital spirit of independence - Credit: Archant

I’ve a good mind to start my own levelling up programme in a bid to forestall too much more meddling and muddling by a bossy government pretending to know what’s best for diehards determined to call themselves locals.

We got a taste of such capital arrogance just over a decade ago when “localism” came floating down as a Westminster sweetener to stop the peasants revolting over ways to separate worthwhile wheat from choking chaff while 21st century threshing tackle gathered steam.

Hailed as a new model of planning tailored to meet different areas’ different needs rather than to satisfy an insatiable national masterplan for widespread development, that has gone down like an unordered load of bricks around Hethersett, Wymondham, Attleborough and countless others destined for such caring treatment.

Goodness only knows what could be in the offing as another “more freedom to make your own choices” pledge arrives in the dodgy guise of a levelling up operation already dismissed as another “localism with knobs on” by anyone able to tell a rampant concrete mixer from a creaky political bandwagon.

Closing gaps and feeding aspirations are all well and good as long as they’re not employed cynically as part of any drive to drain colour and individuality out of locations with minds and outlooks of their own. Norfolk is readily acknowledged by many movers and shakers in high places as an attractively alternative sort of challenge.

Unfortunately, their admiration yields too easily to “harsh economic realities” brooking little or no sympathy for those who stand out from the crowd. Norfolk’s singularity is a virtue to be ruthlessly exploited rather than lovingly protected.

“Dew Diffrunt” is far more than a quirky little motto to go with a deliciously durable dialect and deliberately understated sense of humour , both still perplexing the brightest business and political types who just don’t get the basic bewties of squit.

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My contribution to the current debate on how to devolve more power to “ordinary” people by those who have it but can’t work out just what to do with it takes the form of a list of helpful observations for the terribly busy chap entrusted with leading the search for prime level playing fields across the country to serve as building sites for New Jerusalem projects.

Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, a suburban constituency in the London commuter belt, clearly ideal territory for fostering local pride and homely self-sufficiency, is secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities. He is also minister for intergovernmental relations, ( How to get on with each other) and used to have a Saturday job as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

He makes no secret of his desire to be prime minister, twice standing for leadership of the Conservative Party and coming third on both occasions. An ongoing volatile Westminster climate suggests he may not have to wait too long for another bid.

My paramount tip to Mr Gove in ambitious mode is to stay on the level with the “Great British public” when it comes to being completely honest about this much-trumpeted levelling up. It has far more to do with political expediency than economic equality or individual wellbeing and is just another trimming for an underwhelming “dash for devolution” package.

Much more sensible and productive to leave places like Norfolk alone and praise them for seeing off irksome invaders like rampant Romans, vicious Vikings, simpering celebrities pillaging second homers and dastardly developers offered ample scope for destruction by a constant stream of complicit government ministers.

Norfolk can also deal with little anomalies like “Chelsea-on- Sea,” a small but highly influential “catwalk” for the well-heeled not far from the highly popular Wells-Hunstanton coastline.

Levelling up in somewhere like Burnham Market and immediate neighbours could mean adding a rural life museum to a panoply of attractions to inform visitors from London – and other unsuspecting parts – and remind remaining locals that Norfolk has a rich agricultural past … and still contains fields and meadows without houses for our farmers and furrows to flourish.

If Mr Gove and his levelling up disciples are tempted to cast envious eyes towards the Fens, they ought to appreciate most of these were drained centuries ago to form part of that agricultural and wildlife heritage rather than prepare them for tower blocks of flats with “glorious views” across an unspoilt skyline.

I could go on about spirit levels .. how high is yours as you watch enforced changes taking toll on dear old Norfolk? Or level crossings … and other associated strands as the Gove express comes thundering down the tracks

The big question towering over all blessed plots worthy of tender loving care is : Will this clamour for levelling up turn out to be another example of hideous dumbing down?