The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in Staffordshire

Following our AGM and refreshed with a cup of tea, members settled down to listen to a most interesting talk from Philip Goode, a representative of the Staffordshire Branch of the Campaign for Rural England. The CPRE is well known to many of us principally for its high media profile, when its representatives often express strong views on local and national environmental issues. Our meeting was altogether more relaxed and more pensive, as Philip, by means of some superb colour slides, took us on a tour of Staffordshire, exploring its rural landscapes, both natural and built. We often forget that Staffordshire is a county of contrasts, from the limestone uplands of the Peak District, to the lowland heaths of Cannock Chase . Man has made his mark on that evolving natural landscape, using indigenous materials for his buildings. Philip's slides showed us a range of Staffordshire's buildings, from humble homes to majestic mansions, built with a wide variety of local materials - timber, brick, stone - in a variety of styles over many centuries.

But as Philip pointed out, the countryside is always changing. It is not a fixed landscape, despite the chocolate box picture that many people would like to believe is reality. Sometimes change is rapid, as when the enclosures took place, sometimes change is much slower, but nonetheless significant. Protecting the best of our countryside, yet allowing for change in the realisation that the countryside must support a dynamic, not decaying, economy, is the planners' balancing act. Philip believes that not only planners, but all of us involved in shaping the countryside need a 'soft touch'. We need to go with the grain of the countryside. Too often, our interventions have been and still are, heavy handed. Building developments have often ignored the special character of rural areas by constructing "standard" dwellings more suited to urban areas. Sympathetic design has been at a premium. Yet the countryside faces new challenges from global warming and the decline in oil reserves (which may exacerbate problems of accessibility). Philip concluded by reminding us that the future character of our countryside is in all our hands; we have the power to wreck our countryside or to create something of value for future generations.

Roger Hockney
February 2009