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  1. Wealth
August 15, 2011updated 28 Jan 2016 6:53pm

Protect Rural Life

By William Cash

Local regional economic growth and a distinctive character of rural life go together, and cannot be severed

This is part of Spear’s Save Britain’s Historic Landscape Campaign

I spent yesterday morning walking along the ancient ridge at Meadowley, near my home at Upton Cressett, where the proposed wind turbines will desecrate the local landscape. From the top of the ridge, walking through golden wheatfields so high that my Labrador had to jump up for air every few yards, I could clearly see the entire parkland of Aldenham Park in Morville, the ancestral home of the Acton family (whose members include Sir Harold Acton) where the 19th-century historian Lord Acton used to live.

Acton may not be widely read today in schools, and is chiefly remembered for his famous quote, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ but his influence as a liberal thinker and historian remains significant, in particular his lectures on liberty, freedom and democracy, which were delivered not to an august gathering of the Royal Society in London or a great lecture hall at Cambridge, where he later became Regius Professor of Modern History, but rather at the more humble Bridgnorth Institute in my local market town.

Acton, who was briefly the Liberal MP for Bridgnorth in the 1860s, was a close confidant of Gladstone, who regarded Acton – who became the first Baron Acton – as his intellectual superior. As the Localism Bill approaches the statute books in the autumn, with worrying implications for local democracy and social justice that attend a close reading of the detail of the bill, Acton’s lectures are well worth re-reading again today.

In The History of Freedom in Antiquity, which was delivered to the Bridgnorth Institute on 26 February 1877, Acton outlines with prescience  the various sources of governmental power, the extent and limits of governmental power, and his views on how has the right to exercise such power. He argues that democracy is no guarantee of liberty. In the absence of any moral code that caps the extent of governmental power, even a democracy will tend to slide towards absolutism. The only thing that can protect a mature democracy, argues Acton, is civil power which operates under the protection of ‘conscience’.

This idea of a national ‘conscience’ may seem anachronistic today as I suspect there will be more than the pricking of such a ‘national conscience’ if the government – in the name of local democracy, under the auspices of the Localism Bill – continues its policy of the full scale desecration of the English countryside with forests of wind turbines turning beautiful parts of England into a terrifying wind turbine landscape.
AS STATED BEFORE, Spear’s has launched a national campaign to highlight the way that the character of rural England is under threat – in a way not seen since the Enclosure Acts – all because of crazy and unobtainable new legal carbon emission targets that Chis Huhne and George Osborne have signed up to (initiated by John Prescott) that everybody knows are impossible to achieve. Such quotas maybe useful for posturing on the eco-stage at Davos or other summit meetings but they serve no tangible benefit.

The result however is that not only is it a useless policy as the wind farms don’t produce anything like the energy they are meant to (current one half of a quarter per cent of total UK supply), but the countryside is being defiled, local economies -such as the once beautiful Montgomeryshire blighted, and the landscape of historic rural England being defiled by a wind farm plague. The new Localism Bill – passing in October – will only open the floodgates for more unchecked development, along with inappropriate building development across the country which will wreck the quality of village life for many villages.

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One reason that this policy is so misplaced – and seems so clearly written by urban types who fail to understand – is that retaining the distinctive beauty and character of rural life is crucial to regional economic growth. The picture is the same across the UK, but my home region of the Midlands is a good example.

While market towns and cities around me like Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham need to embrace growth (ie progressive planning), it also needs to be remembered that the reason so many businesses, investors and entrepreneurs are relocating to Shropshire, and innovative technology based towns like Telford, is that these very people – the socially mobile, innovative enterprising – choose to live in surrounding pretty villages, market towns and landscapes that have retained their identity and unique historic character.

Local regional economic growth and a distinctive character of rural life go together, and cannot be severed; one supports the other, like branches on a tree.
THIS ‘UNSPOILT’ AND much envied quality of life – the pages of Country Life have raised this peculiarly English affliction for the idyll of rural escape into an art form – is enjoyed by the rural community, and many people who retire to historic villages, after years of slog and hard work in towns and cities. Moreover, the beautiful English scenery and skyline is regarded as a community asset that is not owned by developers. All these factors – with nobody claiming to own the sky, rather like on the island of St Lucia,  the beaches of even the most exclusive resorts are communally owned and free for everybody to enjoy – combine to make an important contribution itself to a thriving local economy.

This is endorsed by the English Heritage report ‘Putting the Historic Environment to Work: A Strategy for the West Midlands, 2010-2015’, which states clearly that preserving the integrity and authenticity of the historic environment is crucial in meeting the modern challenges of economic growth today. The report cites how Solihull, for example, is one of the fastest growing local economies in the UK. Many of those who work in Solihull chose to live in scenic villages with historic landscapes in the surrounding area.

In short, one of the reasons that talented and skilled workers are contributing to the local economy is that they cherish and enjoy the unspoilt countryside and historic villages that they cannot find elsewhere in the country where urban sprawl and lack of respect for the historic environment has blighted local landscapes. The document states that ‘policies and plans for the West Midlands reflect the needs of the historic environment and recognize, promote and use the positive contribution that it can make to health, well being and culture.’

This applies across the whole country. A particularly invidious example of a ‘hotspot’ which has decimated the local sense of well being is around the Daventy District where villages are awash with ‘No Wind Farm Here’ signs on houses thus paralysing the local property market where prices have fallen by up to 40 per cent in some areas close to approved wind farm sites. Nobody wants to live next door to an industrial crane that towers in size over Nelson’s Column, causes ‘shadow flicker’ due to the width of the rotor blades blocking out the sun and makes a noise that has been likened to ‘an aircraft taking off’.

Acton’s second most famous quote is: ‘Great men are almost always bad men.’ Considering that it was John Prescott and Ed Miliband who were the original architects of this misguided policy of landscape destruction, I think Acton’s words need paraphrasing to reflect how bad policy is the result of electing mediocre politicians. Watch how the wind farm scandal in Wales will be turned into a political issue in the local May elections with people standing on an anti-Welsh wind farm political ticket – and winning.

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