Opinion

Any views are of the contributor

An open letter to Wychavon District Councillor Tom McDonald in response to his intervention at the Springhill glasshouse planning appeal. It is not about the glasshouses themselves.

Thanks Tom, well put. Your desire to protect the rural environment would have been undermined by the local tour the inspector will have undertaken. His most immediate experience for example will have been of the verges, hedges, lay-bys and immediate surroundings of the A44 between Fladbury and Pinvin which when compared to the other stretches of that same road just a few miles away at the other side of Pershore seem more light-industrial than bucolic. And that is without mentioning the tip. I do not mean the caravans at Hill and Moor by the way, they look fine with their maturing hedges.

Perhaps we need a more comprehensive programme with WDC, WCC, Highways and landowners to improve the look and feel of the natural environment as well as the built environment. I'm thinking of the sort of maintenance and upkeep in a natural way that is done in the Cotswolds. Such things add to the desirability of the place and hence the likelihood of inward investment. They should not be underestimated as any house-hunter, or house-seller will affirm.

If such a programme was in place and even if the only leverage on local landowners was one of peer pressure and low-cost encouragement such as awards, I'm sure the appeal inspector in this case would have given more importance to the local environment, or it might have made a compromise easier to reach earlier at lower cost to all concerned. WDC might have been able to agree better landscaping and maintenance with the developers, some of whose tractor drivers cause damage to verges. Now, I suspect the developers, to whom lets give the credit due, are investing heavily and are one of the biggest landowners locally I'm told, will have little incentive or desire to co-operate with the local authority or local people.

What a shame. So, what would I suggest? Well, how about this:

We should see the Vale of Evesham as the place of great natural beauty and bounty that the very name conjures up in most English people's minds, not just seek to manage its decline.

To my mind, how we do that is not by objecting to glasshouses or wind turbines, (look around France and Holland) but by having a vision of how the place was and could be and then preparing a set of tools to engage local landowners and citizens in making sure that any and all developments add to that image. Done right, such a vision will both improve the rural environment AND attract the inward investment our local economy much needs.

I know that the Regional, County & District authorities have various Plans, Spacial Plans, Joint Core Strategies, Design Statements, Development Plans, and the rest, but these tend to be un-homogenous mixtures of diverse, even conflicting, interests. One region's plan ends up barely distinguishable from the next's. Those involved are obliged to operate in the system they are given. and the plans inevitably end up as committee camels by virtue of the very process of their creation.

Only those places that have an overarching special sense of identity, such as our neighbours in the Cotswolds, can muster enough fire-power to flavour and colour all such plans to get the environment their citizens desire. The question therefore is how WDC creates such a vision. I am thinking not just of the bureaucracy part of the how, the planning documents, etc., but also the need to mobilise the hearts and minds of the council and other movers and shakers.

Just my thoughts. Does WDC get to grips with these things as effectively as local councils in the Cotswolds?

Perhaps a "Vale Beauty and Investment" body is needed? These two things must go hand in hand.

The Lake District had its Wordsworth, Shropshire had its Housman. Perhaps we need a poet or a writer to inspire us and put the Vale and its Avon up the desirability league where it could and should be?

The local press should help too. I was appalled by the Evesham Journal's silly "disruption" story in reaction to the great news of the Cotswold line rain re-doubling to Evesham that our MP Peter Luff and others have fought for. More evidence of the need for a Beauty and Investment vision.

A Hughes.

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