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Our beautiful hills deserve a better deal

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 07, 2013

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There are often times when ministers need to underline something for the benefit of our unenlightened brethren and one of those occasions is upon us.

In this instance it concerns the Quantock Hills which, as you know, straddle my constituency and which, as you might not know, thoughtfully shelter chez Liddell-Grainger from the worst of the easterlies, which is a real bonus in the winter.

Anyway they are officially classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a sort of second-division national park, which rather implies that they should be subject to the second highest level of protection that local authority planning policies can afford.

Such has not been the case increasingly, of late, I am sorry to say. Some planning decisions have been taken which are, not to mince words, crass, and are going to result in developments which far from respecting the AONB status will go a long way towards undermining it because they are going to set very dodgy precedents indeed.

I've been in touch with Nick Boles and asked for some underlining to be carried out because this is not the first occasion where AONBs have come in for some cavalier treatment from planning authorities.

In the case of the Quantocks they really are so stunningly beautiful that originally there were proposals to embosom them within the boundary of Exmoor National Park when it was created.

However the locals made such a fuss about all the extra controls and bureaucracy they would be saddled with – rather perspicaciously, as it turned out – that this idea was dropped.

It is of course, no more than a cockstride from the Quantocks to the national park boundary and it wouldn't take much effort to extend the national park boundary now to include them. Sadly, having seen the performance of Exmoor National Park Authority over the past few years the Quantock communities would probably prefer to be annexed by Waziristan.

But they are inordinately fond, not to say proud, of their hills and they don't want to see the natural beauty diminished, diluted or damaged by planning committee members who appear to have only the most tenuous of grasps of what the initials AONB stand for.

I was delighted, incidentally, to see that £10 million beef export deal to Singapore tied up by Defra, which is at last redeeming itself and doing something positive to help British farmers.

But isn't it remarkable that it's taken all this time to erase the stigma of BSE – after all we're talking about lifting a ban that was put in place in the 1980s.

The real challenge, of course, is going to be to persuade our nearest continental neighbours that British beef is as safe to eat as their own, but the French media never miss an opportunity to blacken its reputation – despite the fact that they're already eating considerable tonnages of it in processed foods.

Perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the irony of that situation but it grieves me every time I see a menu in a French restaurant stating that the beef is French, or German, or Argentinian – anything but British.

We could brazen it out and take a lorry load of steaks over and do some cooking demos but the French are insanely, illogically chauvinist when it comes to such things.

Anyway, given the mood in their country at the moment and harking back to the way the French farmers invented that great dish Agneau Anglais Flambé au Camion a few years back, perhaps it wouldn't be such a wise move.

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