Fields of dreams we don't want to share

More people than ever are visiting the country, but they want to keep it to themselves
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The Independent Online
The dream of the rural good life is alive and well. Unfortunately it is not a dream we wish to share. On the contrary, "Not in my back yard", or "Nimby", attitudes are widespread, according to a report published this week by the Countryside Commission.

The nationwide survey, canvassing more than 1,000 people, reveals that twice as many people would like to live in the countryside as do at the moment, implying a need to build many more new homes. Yet these same people do not want more housebuilding to put pressure on what they perceive as their countryside. More than half of those surveyed - 58 per cent - say changes to the countryside surrounding their homes would concern them most.

The survey, backed up by six discussion sessions with interested groups, found people are equally two-faced about traffic on rural roads. Most worry about other people's cars blocking country roads, yet they don't want to leave their own cars at home and use public transport to travel to beauty spots. For example, 91 per cent of visitors to National Parks arrive by car, yet 70 per cent of those surveyed said people driving their cars are damaging the countryside.

More people than ever visit the countryside and expect to find modern facilities when they arrive, yet the survey found 72 per cent worry that leisure development could ruin their favourite views.

The overwhelming majority - 91 per cent - agree that society has a moral duty to protect the countryside for the future, and 89 per cent say the countryside should be protected at all costs. Some 72 per cent accept they will have to pay more to protect the countryside, and 71 per cent feel that government efforts to do so should be stepped up.

Most people still think there should be greater public access to the countryside, notwithstanding the fact that 70 per cent acknowledge that farmers - often perceived as obstructing that access - keep the landscape attractive.

"These personal contradictions mean that what the general public values and wants from the countryside can threaten the very things they want protected," said Richard Simmonds, chairman of the Countryside Commission.

John Gummer, former environment secretary, argued that up to 60 per cent of the four million homes needed by 2016 could be built on derelict or "brown field" sites in urban areas. The Council for the Protection of Rural England backed Mr Gummer on this. But Tony Burton, CPRE's assistant director, says he is unsure what Labour will do. "We think they could argue that we are being Nimbys by wanting most of the houses taken out of the countryside and built in the cities," Mr Burton said.

In many ways, the survey bears out the conflict at the heart of countryside policy. Before the election, Labour said it would legislate to introduce a right to roam in open country. Kate Ashbrook, chairman of the Ramblers' Association, says she still expects the Government to issue a consultation paper on the matter as soon as possible. Landowners, however, led by the Country Landowners Association - are bound to object, saying they prefer "managed" access.

In other words, landowners want to tell walkers precisely where they can go in the landowners' backyards, rather than allowing them to roam.

Keeping the modern world at bay

Nigel Hawthorne, actor (right), played Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister; bought a Grade II listed farmhouse in 1992. He was at the forefront of a local group determined to prevent the building of a motorway service station - 250 yards from his house.

Bel Mooney, writer (right); wanted to stop a planned by-pass near her home in Bath in 1994, and spent two weeks camping in a Mongolian yurt. Refused to let protesters stay on her land because it was tied up with organic cattle belonging to her husband Jonathan Dimbleby.

Princess Anne, the Princess Royal (right); objected to plans for 73 homes on the site of a derelict 14th-century mill backing on to her estate, Gatcombe Park. It would be a security risk, she said.

Michael Howard, contender for Tory leadership, former Home Secretary; he took exception to a plan to build a holiday village a few miles from his pounds 500,000 home. The project waits on a planning inquiry.

Jilly Cooper, prolific author (right); she strongly opposed a plan to build 83 new houses, uncomfortably close to her own in Bisley, Gloucestershire.