We should welcome new life to villages
I see the Council for Pickling Rural England has been at it again this week with another bleat about the relaxation of planning rules and the impact on the countryside.
They've even put up their president Sir Andrew Motion to complain about potential "vandalism" resulting: wonder he hasn't gone into retreat for a fortnight and emerged with his complaint couched in one of his usual impenetrable "poems".
There's all sorts of shroud-waving taking place about AONBs and national parks disappearing under swathes of flat-pack terraces as the developers move in to cover everything to the distance horizon with bijou residencettes.
What they are really concerned about, of course, are the national parks and this is where I really take issue with them, because there is no doubt that Exmoor, the national park I represent in part, has suffered since the day the National Parks Act got the Royal Assent.
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The shutters slammed down, another layer of bureaucracy and impossibly stringent planning controls were imposed on the place and those in charge set about trying to conserve it as some kind of massive rural heritage centre.
The result that life outside the national park has carried on as normal and society has continued to evolve, while inside the wire there's still a sense that one has walked through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and is back in 1950.
Development controls have stifled progress while the planners only took action to halt the spread of second and holiday homes when it was already too late and villages had lost their communities and their shops. I am delighted to say the current administration has taken a more enlightened view and the development of the new market and associated housing at Wheddon Cross, for instance, has been a model for others to follow and injected new lifted into a moribund community.
But so balanced is the local economy on a knife edge that the arrival of a new supermarket in the village has almost certainly brought the end for at least one, if not two shops in the next village.
If we had not made it so difficult to build new houses the villages would have been enlarged and there would still be a critical mass of customers to support all the village shops we once had.
But what with absentee owners only popping in for a pint of milk when they arrive for the weekend on Friday night and the advent of home deliveries by supermarkets, I fear the writing is on the wall for several local retail outlets in the shape of a sign saying "Closing down sale".
Let's get one thing straight: no one is going to start building massive housing estates across Exmoor: it's too cold and wet for most people, there are very few jobs and not a lot to do once it gets dark.
But if a slightly more relaxed attitude to development means that villages can start to catch up with the rest of the world and we see new families moving in and vibrant communities returning as a result I, for one, will be delighted.