Saturday, December 03, 2005

Local Plan inspector rules out the importance of the literary landscape at Coate.



You can read some basic information about what the Local Plan inspector said about the Coate policies on the Save Coate newsblog. It is mostly bad news for Jefferies Land although there are some rays of hope.

However, David Fenton had this to say about Jefferies literary landscape:

"I understand the relevance of the Coate landscape to the life and works of local writer Richard Jefferies. Much of his writing has drawn upon his upbringing in the immediate area and is set within this landscape, around Coate, Day House Farm and Coate Water. The development land is a central and integral part of the landscape depicted in his writings. However, I do not find that I can attribute such weight to this factor as to justify turning down the designation of this area for development. To some people Jefferies and his works are an integral part of the literary landscape of Britain. However, it seems to me that he is not known or thought of in the same way as more major figures such as Hardy or Wordsworth. That is not to denigrate his works or to undervalue his contributions, but there does not seem to me to be the weight of acclaim to justify a stop being placed upon the development of this land.

PPS7 makes reference to historic areas, but, overall there is little in national or local policy guidance that would directly support the protection of land such as here at Coate for this reason, regardless of the cultural importance of his writings. The land carries no formal historic designation. Development, although directly affecting the immediate area of Richard Jefferies’ upbringing, would still leave intact some of the landscapes whose virtues he extolled in his writings. In conclusion, I do not consider that it would be justified for the Local Plan to protect this area because of its literary links."

2 comments:

Richard Jefferies Society said...

The Richard Jefferies Society has now written to the deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to challenge his Inspector's statement. The letter reads as follows:

Rt Hon John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

7 December 2005

Dear Mr Prescott

Swindon Local Plan 2011, public inquiry - Inspector’s report, December 2005

The Richard Jefferies Society participated in the Swindon Local Plan Inquiry that took place earlier this year. We are dismayed to read the Inspector’s views published on 2 December related to the lack of weight he has afforded to the special quality of the literary landscape of land at Coate. This area is associated with Victorian writer, Richard Jefferies, and has been identified for major development.

We have included the relevant text from the Inspector’s report at the end of this letter [see main blof above for text]. David Fenton states: “To some people Jefferies and his works are an integral part of the literary landscape of Britain. However, it seems to me that he is not known or thought of in the same way as more major figures such as Hardy or Wordsworth.”

We beg to differ with this view. Jefferies is still a major figure amongst landscape and nature writers. We draw your attention to an article published in the Guardian Review, dated 30 July 2005, that highlights the importance of Jefferies’ land as a national asset. The Guardian newspaper had been asking readers to write in and nominate the great classic writers of British nature – Richard Jefferies proved to be the top nominated writer. The article entitled "Where the wild things were" by Robert Macfarlane specifically lists Jefferies' autobiography 'Story of My Heart' as reflecting Wiltshire’s nature. The relevant text is also included at the end of this letter.

Unaware of the poll taking place, we were delighted that Guardian readers awarded this accolade to Jefferies. Even more so that Jefferies was rated above Hardy and Wordsworth.

We believe that Jefferies Land is a most valued landscape in terms of Planning Policy Statement 7 [PPS7] that provides planning guidance to “raise the quality of life and the environment in rural areas through the promotion of continued protection of the open countryside for the benefit of all, with the highest level of protection for our most valued landscapes and environmental resources.” [objective i].

PPS7 paragraph 16[v] also provides policy guidance to "conserve specific features and sites of landscape, wildlife and historic or architectural value, in accordance with statutory designations."

Given that Swindon has such a poor cultural image in Britain when it has such an important and influential figurehead born and bred at Coate, we are at a loss to understand the Inspector’s point of view.

We request that you might explore our concern as we believe a major constraint to development has been summarily dismissed. In order to guide your deliberations we enclose a copy of Coate and Richard Jefferies by John Chandler that was published in November 2005.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Richard Jefferies Society

Copy to Anne Snelgrove, MP for Swindon South
******
"Where the wild things were", 30 July 2005, Guardian Review

"….by far the most frequently nominated, was the novelist, memoirist and country-essayist, Richard Jefferies (1848-87). Jefferies was born near Swindon, and spent much of his life exploring the rural southern counties of Wiltshire, Sussex, Gloucestershire, and Somerset. His writings show him to be the exponent of a rare but deeply English materialist-mysticism. For he possessed and practised what the poet Jeremy Hooker has called "ditch vision" - an ability to find the extraordinary in the rurally local. For Jefferies, the English countryside was rife with wilderness. Not in the North American sense of wilderness as a function of grandness of scale, a phenomenon to be experienced only amid the red-rock dihedral citadels of the desert states, or the vaporous magnificence of the Niagara Falls, or the vast mirror lakes of the Rockies. No, Jefferies located the wild in the strange and ragged interzones of a farmed English landscape - in hedges, ditches, ponds, spinneys - and he wrote about that landscape with the same astonishment and wonder that his travel-writing contemporaries were voicing in their reports on the Amazon, the Pacific, and the Rub al-Khali."

Anonymous said...

Western Daily Press

BATTLE OF THE LITERARY GIANTS (OR WAS ONE A PYGMY?)

3 January 2006

A Row over the merits of 19th century West Country literary giants Thomas Hardy and Richard Jefferies has gone all the way to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. It was sparked after Planning Inspector David Fenton's views on eminent Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies enraged an appreciation group formed in his home town of Swindon.

The Richard Jefferies Society is fighting to prevent wildlife-rich countryside, known as Jefferies Land, from being destroyed by a £500million development on the edge of Swindon.

A university, offices and 1,800 homes are proposed for 500 acres of fields around the hamlet of Coate, an area objectors say was immortalized by the writings of Jefferies, who lived there. The society insists the area is part of Swindon's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved.

But after examining its objections, Mr Fenton felt the land could be developed. His report said: "To some people Jefferies and his works are an integral part of the literary landscape of Britain.

"However, it seems to me that he is not known or thought of in the same way as more major figures such as Hardy or Wordsworth." The society has now written to Mr Fenton's boss Mr Prescott, challenging his decision that Jefferies writings should have no bearing on the proposals.

The letter points out that Jefferies (18481887) was recently voted "by far the most frequently nominated author" when he came third in a national poll to find Britain's most popular nature writer.

This, the society notes, was higher than both Wordsworth and Hardy, whose works were also inspired by the West Country.

Jefferies society member Jean Saunders wrote: "We are dismayed to read the inspector's views related to the lack of weight he has afforded to the special quality of the literary landscape of land at Coate." She said Jefferies Land is a "most valued landscape" in terms of planning policy guidelines regarding the quality of life and the environment in rural areas.

THE letter goes on: "Given that Swindon has such a poor cultural image in Britain, when it has such an important and influential figurehead born and bred at Coate, we are at a loss to understand the inspector's point of view.

"We request that you might explore our concerns as we believe a major constraint to development has been summarily dismissed." To help guide Mr Prescott's deliberations, the society has sent him a copy of a new publication, Coate and Richard Jefferies by John Chandler. The Save Coate campaign has collected 26,000 signatures in its battle to protect Jefferies Land, which lies next to Coate Water Country Park.

In September, campaigners launched the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust which is seeking an alterative use for the rural site, situated near Junction 15 of the M4 and the Great Western Hospital.

The trust says the land should be preserved "for visitors to enjoy a special rural climate, and as a centre for study of the environment and historic landscapes". But the University of Bath in Swindon says it is the only viable site for its campus and denies campaigners' claims that it could be built in the town centre.

It has linked up with developers whose proposed 1,800 homes and commercial park will finance the infrastructure for the university, including sewers and roads. This Gateway scheme will also help fast-growing Swindon fill its Government housing quota for the next few years, says the council.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887)

BEST known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, village life and agriculture in late Victorian England, Jefferies' career also revealed a many-sided author who was something of an enigma.

Some associate him with the children's classic Bevis or the strange futuristic fantasy After London. But his finest work, including his autobiography The Story of my Heart, was inspired by the countryside around Coate, near Swindon, where he grew up and spent much of his life.

He is cited as an inspiration to a number of better known writers including John Fowles, who lived in Dorset, and A A 'Christopher Robin' Milne.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Poet and novelist born in Dorchester, Hardy created the literary region of Wessex, based in an around Dorset, where many of his stories are set.

His career as writer spanned more than 50 years, during which he wrote classic novels including Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude The Obscure.

His novels bravely challenged many of the sexual and religious conventions of the Victorian age, and dared to present a bleak view of human nature.

In his poems, Hardy depicted rural life without sentimentality - his mood was often stoic and gloomy.