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  1. Wealth
July 10, 2013

’5000 to the Bridgnorth Amateur Operatic Society to Save the Shropshire Hills

By Spear's

I will make this donation if the wind farm application at Criddon Farm, Upton Cresset, is formally withdrawn by September 1, 2013

As announced in The Bridgnorth Journal this week, I am offering to donate £5000 to the Bridgnorth Amateur Operatic Society (BAOS) if the wind farm application at Criddon Farm, Upton Cressett, by Share Energy/Crida Wind  (on land owned by farmer Clive Millington) is formally withdrawn by September 1, 2013. With a letter of confirmation that the application will not be re-submitted.

I understand that Mr Millington’s wife is a keen musical singer and performer with the BAOS – also known, since 2007, as the Bridgnorth Musical Theatre Company. Every year the company is sponsored by local companies and businesses I would be delighted to make such a donation in order to help the BMTC raise ‘the much needed funds’ – as the company puts it on its website – in order to support a local arts society that has been very much part of the Bridgnorth community for over fifty years.

Founded in 1953, and celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, its main annual show is performed in February each year. The Bridgnorth Musical Theatre Company describe themselves as ‘an amateur society who perform stage shows and musicals ranging from the old time classics such as ‘Calamity Jane’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘High Society’ and ‘Me & My Girl’ to more modern shows such as ‘Godspell’ and ‘Pirates of Penzance’ Broadway Version’.

In 1957, the Bridgnorth Amateur Operatic Society put on The Arcadians. This not especially well known Edwardian musical comedy was first performed in 1909 at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London. It was described as a “Fantastic Musical Play” in three acts by Mark Ambient and Alexander M. Thompson, with lyrics by Arthur Wimperis and music by Lionel Monckton and Howard Talbot. The Panglossian story revolves around some idyllic rural Arcadians who wish to transform ‘wicked’ London’ to a land of truth and simplicity.

But the opposite is increasingly true today. The amount of subsidy (paid for by us, the public, through increased energy bills) that farmers and wind developers are receiving at the moment has meant that many landowners – especially former tenant farmers who have been brought up with little or no sense of responsibility as a landowner to the local community – have lost their bearings as to what being a farmer is; despite the rocketing price of land that has made them multi-millionaires, they seek subsidies like truffle hunting junkies with their sun tanned noses in the EU subsidy trough. They even get paid Croesus-sums for not farming at all – all because of the ‘Single Payment’ and something called an environmental  ‘stewardship schemes’. 

And now they think it is their right, as landowners, to desecrate iconic, local and historic landscapes and countryside across the country. As I have written before, farmers may own the land but they do not own the landscape. The landscape is owned by all of us. The Green eco-army are no longer the green goodies – they have become the enemy of conservation and the countryside. As seen by The Battle of Upton Cressett, the green eco- wind fanatics care not an inch for the heritage and rural beauties of Shropshire or the Bridgnorth Hills. Share Energy only has around 30 registered members in the whole of Shropshire plus staff.

They do not care about the Arcadia of Shropshire Hills – or the way people’s lives – hard working people who have worked all their lives to own a little slice of the Illyria in the English countryside – could be wrecked by noise, health issues, sleepless nights, shadow flicker,  blighted property prices (up to 40%) and a devastating loss of quality of life. Not to mention the potential for the slicing and slaughter of rare and migrating birds and other local wildlife. 

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Share Energy and Crida Wind and the ranks of subsidy junkie farmers such as Clive Millington who feel no sense of responsibility to the Shropshire community are no Arcadians – they are the New Anti-Arcadians. 

It was mentioned at the Chetton Parish Meeting that Clive Millington is thinking of renting out his nice listed red-brick Hall farm mansion (looking out towards his proposed turbines) and moving to another multi-milion pound farm he has recently bought far away from the damage he wished to reek on the Shropshire landscape and the lives ofothers who are rightly incensed that he wants to make their homes unsaleable and their lives miserable.

The bearded zealots of Share Energy do not live around Bridgnorth and have no emotional roots there. The Shropshire Portal website shows only one actually true local Supporter of the turbines (the rest are just random eco-wind lobby rent-a-mob emails against literally hundreds of objectors who live locally). 

The eco-wind activists happily feed the local papers false and misleading claims for wind power, (such as that the Criddon wind turbines will provide energy for up to 750 local homes when the amount of energy will actually be struggling to boil a few kettles in Bridgnorth) and misleading attempts to claim more local ‘support’ than they really have – which is almost zero – by sending out round-robin emails to specially prepared email lists handed out by the Big Business (foreign owned) wind corporate giants and their unlimited PR resources (again all paid by us, through the green levy on energy bills).

The Eco-Wind Greenies are the Calibans of the 21st century. Arcadia was rightly a popular setting for light opera and musical theatre in the early 20th century – with unspoilt rural areas like Shropshire and Herefordshire and Worcestershire (especially the Malvern Hills which so inspired Edward Elgar) providing inspiration for artists andcomposers. Vaughan Williams was inspired by Housman for his evocative English pastoral Songs on Wenlock Edge. W. S. Gilbert used the idea of the pastoral rural idyll  – uncorrupted by airplanes, industrialisation and motorways and ribbon housing development – in Happy Arcadia and Iolanthe.

The development of aviation, roads and motor cars in the early years of the 20th century traumatised many artists with writers such as Kenneth Graham being so angered by the devastation to his rural utopia – in his case the River Thames in Berkshire – that he wrote The Wind in the Willows, another Edwardian pastoral idyll where the stoats and weasels represent the mercenary ‘outsiders’ who want to spoil the countryside and Eden-like way of country life in the name of modern progress. 

The Wind in the Willows is not just a much loved children’s story – it is a cynical literary parable about the evils of industrialisation ruining the ‘old’ ways of the countryside.

The likes of Clive Millington would be regarded by Kenneth Graham today not as Hardy-esque symbols of the oak values of agricultural England but rather as the very stoats and weasels whom he so abhorred and satirised for their short term thinking and lack of affinity or responsibility to others in the community, let alone any respect for nature or the beauties of the English countryside.  

The Arcadians, as a musical first performed in 1909, is about the triumph of the ‘innocent’ rural Arcadians over the villainous ‘townies’ or Londoners who embody flash so-called progress. Today, it is s often the very farmers themselves who are now regarded as the ‘villains’ of the countryside, backed up by their pay masters – big corporate foreign wind energy companies who also have no interest at all in preserving the Arcadia of Shropshire.

At the Chetton and Morville Parish meetings – both packed village halls – Bob Ensum of Share Energy tried to justify the turbine menace on the landscape by saying that they would donate £1000 to a ‘sustainable’ community project, such as a new coat of ecology friendly paint for the village hall, or a ration of free eco-friendly shampoo for all local dogs at the Bridgnorth vet. 

But the value of our landscape around Shropshire and the Bridgnorth Hills, which so inspired artists and poets such as AE Housman, Louis Mac Niece and PG Wodehouse – who used to cycle around the parsley filled lanes at Upton Cressett as a boy – does not have a price tag. Beautiful landscapes are part of who we are as a collective; as Sir Roy Strong has argued in Visions of England,  our relationship between landscape and place is a critical part of the British nationality; of who we are as a people.

Perhaps no other country in Europe has such a stronger aversion to the idea of an ‘invasion’ into our own Arcadias – whether  one lives in a county castle or a garden cottage or a council estate. And incidentally, the proposed turbines at Upton Cressett – by Share Energy’s own admission in their own planning application – will result in ‘significant harm’ to all views from the new housing estate at Tasley, on Wenlock Rise, as you drive out of Bridgnorth towards Morville on the A458. 

As a nation, behind our walls or garden fences, we want to be left alone to enjoy what Shakespeare called ‘this other Eden’. Our own little slice of paradise. We do not like state (or EU) imposed industrialization being imposed on our landscapes which we regard as part of our national and local identity – whether it is a towering wind farm, sewage plant, motorways, HS2,  new motorway or railway tunnel or just ribbon development.

This is why we were lucky to have the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, which protected the Green Belt, and was arguably the most effective planning charter ever written, being responsible (with tight protections and controls on the ‘wrong’ sort of development) for enabling England, on the whole (plenty of mistakes have been made, of course, such as ripping out so many medieval market squares in the 1960s) to keep it’s countryside and heritage as relatively unspoilt as can be expected. Considering the clamour for new housing, as well as unnecessary and politically motivated infrastructure projects to boost the economy, the Town and Country Planning Act was a noble achievement.

The story of how this act came into being – along with the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act – is the subject of a series of brilliant exhibitions being put on this year by English Heritage at the Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner (open from Wed to Sat); and also the subject of an equally brilliant and original book, just published called ‘The Men from the Ministry’ (Yale) by Dr Simon Thurley, head of English Heritage. I recently interviewed Dr Thurley for a profile on Spear’s Magazine that will be published in the autumn.

When David Cameron spent £27 million prior to the Olympics, trying to boost British tourist and business interests abroad by  splashing posters and video films showing off the ‘Best of England’ around theworld – from Tokyo to Rio – it was the postcard images of the English countryside (‘The Countryside is Great’) and our glorious built heritage, from Stonehenge to Hampton Court, (Heritage is Great’), that provided the iconic imagery that so appeals to foreigners coming here, spending money and boosting the economy. 

Last year heritage or countryside visitors to Britain contributed over £12 billion to the economy; and tourism in Britain by UK residents is also booming with one in three people who go away for the weekend now saying that they visit a heritage site as part of that weekend. Heritage tourism alone contributes over £8 billion to the economy.

So it is hardly NIMBYism to protect the countryside and what makes Britain so special; It is rational economic common sense. In Shropshire, for example, 8% of the economy is dependent on tourism. Around the Bridgnorth area, thanks to the Jack Mytton Way – the county’s flagship 100 mile long tourist trail for riders, walkers and cyclists  – equestrian tourism and heritage tourism are much needed for local jobs, and for keeping local hotels and bed and breakfast businesses busy.  

The Bridgnorth Town Plan clearly states that ‘maintaining heritage’ and promoting local tourism  – including the Severn Valley Railway, Wenlock Edge, Upton Cressett Hall, Dudmaston Hall and Gardens, the Dower House Gardens of Katherine Swift at Morville Hall – are priorities for the town.

One reason I am happy to donate £5000 to the Bridgnorth Amateur Dramatics Society is that I would love the company – also now known as the Bridgnorth Musical Theatre Company – to perform on the Moat Lawnat  Upton Cressett. February may not be the ideal time to perform open air theatre at Upton Cressett – this year were snowed in for much of February – but it would be nice to see if we can work together with the Bridgnorth Amateur Operatic Society to put on an open air production perhaps next summer.

Bridgnorth and Morville have always been very much cultural and literary hubs for Shropshire.  Lord Acton, the famous 19th century historian and liberal statesman lived at Aldenham Park; Katherine Swift, the bestselling author and famous gardener – the Vita Sackville-West of Shropshire –  lives at the Dower House in Morville.

We regularly host writers and poets at the Gatehouse as guests of the Upton Cressett Foundation; we are a Patron of the Wenlock Festival and – along with the Churches Conservation Trust, who own and maintain the Norman church of St Michael – provide a venue for the Wenlock Poetry Festival, as well as putting on poetry and creative writing workshops during the festival.

Productions filmed at Upton Cressett include the BBC’s Old Curiosity Shop and the televised  ‘Animal Olympics’. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was performed on the Moat Lawn to mark the re-opening of the Hall in 2011 after a period of restoration and I have long wanted to get the Bridgnorth Amateur Operatic Society to perform for the local community on the Moat Lawn, with the Gatehouse in the background and spotlights hanging from the Spanish Chesnut trees behind – we have a natural stage because of the contours and steep bank left by the old moat.

The communities around Bridgnorth and Morville, Upton Cressett, Chetton, The Down, Underton and Meadowley have been deeply divided and bitterly opposed to the proposed turbines, initiated by farmer Clive Millington who lives at Criddon Hall Farm – which used to be part of the old Upton Cressett estate.

His wife is something of a ‘star’ at the Bridgnorth Musical Theatre Company. What better way than to stop dividing the community, than to withdraw the planning application and put on a musical production in the beautiful grounds of Upton Cressett – so the deeply fractured local community can come together again.  

In the Elizabethan era, when Upton Cressett was built in 1580, wars and civil disputes always ended with a feast and an extravagant theatrical show. Lets do the same at Upton Cressett by putting on a show for all to remember. A revival of The Arcadians might be just the number.

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