Landscape history and landscape threat

This week we held the first of a series of seminars on theme of ‘the country and the city’.  CPRE’s President, Sir Andrew Motion, and the archaeologist and historian, Francis Pryor, gave a fascinating and deeply knowledgeable perspective on the relationship between town and country, and the changing importance of each to the other, over several millennia.  It was a fascinating discussion, which included an overview from Andrew Motion of the relationship of writers and poets to the landscape (Andrew also likening reading Raymond Williams’s book The Country and the City to ‘eating carpet’) and a passionate defence of the acceptability of wind turbines in our ever changing landscape by Francis Pryor.

There was much else, of course, and you can listen to the main presentations here. This was the first of a series. Places are very limited, but anyone interested in coming to future events should contact Sophie Shillito,

This being a CPRE event, there was some discussion of the planning system’s role in ensuring that we still tell where the town ends and the countryside begins.  This was a theme that Francis Pryor took up in his magisterial 2010 book, The Making of the British Landscape: “Even though nearly everyone lives or works in a town or city, somehow Britain has managed to retain its uncluttered rural areas.  We take these things for granted, but I consider them a huge achievement.  I never thought I would be singing the praises of unassuming bureaucrats in town halls up and down the country, but it is almost entirely down to planning.  Town and country planning … is now the single most important factor affecting the look of Britain.  And we meddle with it at our peril!”

The Government did more than meddle with the planning system in the National Planning Policy Framework, which was agreed earlier this year, and we were hoping for a period to allow the reforms to start working – and that includes getting necessary development, including new housing, built.  But they are now proposing further upheaval in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, just published, and with precious little apparent appreciation of history or aesthetics.

The argument is not and never has been that today’s landscape must be, as the cliché goes, ‘preserved in aspic’ – thus Francis Pryor’s support for wind turbines.  But surely anyone with a sense of beauty will deplore the proposal in the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill to allow the erection of overhead telecommunications lines in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

There is much else in the Bill that is deeply concerning, including proposals to shift power from local authorities to the Planning Inspectorate.  So much for localism.

We have a fight on our hands. You can find out why by reading CPRE’s initial response to the Bill. Then, as a reward, you can listen to Andrew Motion and Francis Pryor.

2 Responses to “Landscape history and landscape threat”

  1. 1 Ricks Tree Service November 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    That was clearly stated and elaborated. Keep sharing.

  2. 2 alfinouille September 17, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Very interesting questions around landscape preservation and evolution of the concept of “rurality”. Check out this article that has an other angle on british landscaping

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