Cider celebration in Rosie's rustic valley

Bookman's prize: Laurie Lee savours pleasure of local victory as study reveals strains on angst-ridden writers
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The Independent Online
The "oldest thing in the valley" took a sip from his favourite tipple and savoured the celebrations of a victory against the forces threatening a rural idyll.

The Slad Valley, immortalised by Laurie Lee in his best-selling novel Cider With Rosie, is to be spared a 90-house development after a successful year-long campaign.

The author, a driving force behind the Slad Valley Action Group, enjoyed the moment of victory after Four Oaks, the development company, announced it had withdrawn an appeal to build the houses.

"Apart from the stone walls, I am the oldest thing in the valley," he said. "I used to think like them I was indestructible, but two of the walls fell down recently and I suppose I shall be the next to fall. At least I can go knowing this important fight has been won."

Stroud District Council had already refused planning permission because the proposed development would significantly harm the quality and character of the landscape. Four Oaks lodged an appeal and a public inquiry was due to be held later this month.

Mr Lee, who lives in the valley, said: "Of course I have a feeling of elation and relief that this threat has been removed from us. People feared what this development would mean. People who live here or visit are enchanted that such a valley still exists.

The action group raised pounds 4,000 to fight the appeal, which will now be put in a trust fund to save the greenfield site if another application is made. There are still fears that another application will be submitted, but for the moment the mood is one of celebration.

However, the fears may not be unfounded. A spokeswoman for Four Oaks said: "The decision to withdraw was taken on planning issues and not because of the public outcry. Concerns of the literary links with Cider With Rosie clouded the issue. The village of Slad is two kilometres away from our development but a lot of emotion has been stirred up."

The developers will wait for Gloucestershire County Council and the district council to produce their local plans, which form a blueprint for land use into the next century, before deciding what to do next. "At this stage we are ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out."

Mr Lee, sitting in the Cider With Rosie bar of the Woolpack in Slad, a hostelry featured in the novel, was still celebrating yesterday, however. "We have been drinking scrumpy since we heard the news and I expect this will continue for a little while longer," he said.

The author added: "It has been a tough battle and given the forces ranged against us we didn't expect an easy victory. Four Oaks is a name I always mix up with a local pub, but they weren't distributing my favourite beer. They had plans to stud the end of the valley with new houses and roads."

Mr Lee supported art exhibitions, concerts and poetry readings to raise funds for the campaign. At a packed public meeting attended by Four Oaks representatives he also spoke against the development.

While campaigners acknowledge that people need to have homes, those living in the valley - plus supporters from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and the United States who are fans of the novel - feared the housing would be the thin end of the wedge and precipitate further development.

Mr Lee came to the valley when he was three and stayed until he was 19. "I used to think the whole world was like this," he said. "When I went out into the world to try my fortune I realised there was only one place like this.

"There are some things that are unique and are unspoilt and shouldn't be ravaged, even if it deprives a few shareholders of a little extra money."