It has been suggested that the muted reception given to Andrés Duany’s lengthy presentation of his plans for Thorpe St. Andrew’s woodlands suggested the community might rather like them. It would be hoped that a community would always receive politely, if guardedly, an alien’s suggestions - particularly since the owners of the woodland who sought them did so because they were in difficulties over the land and were discussing it with us. With time to recover from the shock of what was proposed for that large stretch of woodland – bigger indeed than what remains of Mousehold Heath – we can see now just how inappropriate and imprudent the whole scheme was.
Such prettification of selected mature trees and tarting up of watercourses in the creation of a grace-and-favour urban landscape may be appropriate for the USA, which still has huge areas of undeveloped land left. It may also (we know not) have other technicolour ideas for combating climate change and conserving biodiversity. Yet it is simply unacceptable to sacrifice a single hectare of UK woodland to that sort of Disneyland artifice, let alone such a large area in a continuous block - so significant for biodiversity. For in woodland, and in the increase of it rather than its extinction, lies a major way of mitigating the climate change we are all causing.
The imprudence lies in the land owners’ linkage of this monstrous scheme to a suggestion that the community might come to look after a portion of the woods. It was rash to pretend that the community could ever afford to do this, since the owners themselves can no longer afford to do so. That was indiscreet, and throws in doubt the sincerity of the whole plan.
It is similar to the insincerity of Broadland District Council, in pretending that the proposed Rackheath eco-town is for a brownfield site – an airfield - when it is farmland and has been so, or heathland, for all but two of the last several hundred years, and when every hectare of farmland is going to be precious to feed our descendants as sea levels rise. It was suspect of BDC to suggest surprise over the Belmore Park Plan too, since the Council have long been begging landowners to tell them of land that might be made available for building development, and it would be remarkable if they hadn’t long ago had wind of this proposal.
Communities may be polite to aliens, and may even be temporarily dazzled by them when they’re Hollywood entrepreneurs, but they don’t like insincerity. Broadland Land Group and the District Council had better think again, if it is really true that communities will decide what sort of developments occur from now on. Yet at this point British reserve and our dislike of making a fuss need to give way to active involvement. Councils already employ consultants, using our money, to manipulate our public voice. Only clear and unequivocal participation from us all in the future of our part of Norfolk will entitle us to call ourselves a community.