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The recent Heritage Journal report by Alexander Jarvie, Tycoon Threatens Ancient Landscape typifies what seems to be a constantly repeating pattern: a succession of heritage losses on the part of the hapless public and corresponding monetary gains by individuals or corporations, reflecting a failure of “the system” to protect what, on paper, it is supposed to protect.

The situation was described rather pointedly last October at no less a venue than an English Heritage “Question Time” event by no less a person than Simon Jenkins, new Chair of the National Trust in the presence of Baroness Andrews, new Chair of English Heritage and Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism.

“The only thing that I would say, it’s interesting, the conversation here this evening is all about essentially buildings as heritage. One of the things I keep getting kicked under the table at the National Trust about is, heritage is countryside. Do not forget the countryside. Every time you do a poll or a survey of what the British people most treasure about being British, they refer to the British countryside. None of that is reflected, dare I say it, in the wretched planning guidance at the moment. If you try and save the countryside from a housing estate the Government will over rule you on appeal. The countryside I think is a very important part of the heritage and it is extremely difficult to save. They don’t make any of it any more, as Mark Twain said and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Saving buildings, we’ve got pretty good at in this country. It’s got to be a pretty marginal case to be a gonner, we are really quite good at saving historic buildings we’re dreadful at saving the coast line and the countryside and I would just like to flag that one up in any conversation about the heritage, it’s also our heritage, the countryside.”

Nicely put Simon. Everything you say reminds us of Thornborough, the Rotherwas Ribbon, those wretched new houses at Avebury and now Mr Comb-over’s golf course. Not wanted, not warranted. Yet somehow, allowed…

It would be nice to think Simon’s words would hit home. We rather doubt they did. Margaret Hodge responded with “I agree with Simon on the issue of the countryside as part of our heritage, it’s wonderful.”

Whoopee! So she’ll make sure we don’t lose any more world-ranking heritage assets for the financial gain of a well placed tiny minority will she?


January 2010

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