Brief encounter

As far as I am concerned, the number one rule of blogging is never to say anything about an individual in a blog that you would not be prepared to say to that person face-to-face. I think that I have always managed to stick to that rule, even though I have on some rare occasions said some pretty harsh things about the actions taken by named individuals. A case in point is the Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Shaun Spiers, who came within my radar in my blogs Pass me my rose-tinted specs (posted 8 Jun 2012 and 12 Jun 2012). Whilst I was pretty robust in what I said about Mr Spiers, I felt that my comments were fair and that I had complied with my self-imposed rule. Anyway, what the heck, I was never going to meet the chap, was I?

Wrong! Just recently I received a telephone call from Warwickshire CPRE asking if I would like to take part in a visit that the branch had organised to show Mr Spiers some rural protection issues in my home county. I was told that HS2 was just one of these issues, which also include windfarm development and threats to the Green Belt from housing and industrial development. The visit would involve rather a whirlwind tour of southern Warwickshire, but I was told that I would be allocated a very generous half-hour to show Mr Spiers the damage that HS2 would do to my local countryside.

Putting aside any personal embarrassment that I might feel about the criticism in my blogs, I could hardly turn down this offer, could I? So I agreed to conduct the CPRE party on a ten-minute walk out of Cubbington to the wild pear tree, and return everyone back within the thirty-minute limit. This was duly carried out, and the proof is the photograph below, which shows the party in front of the said tree.

CPRE_visit_17Apr2013The dramatis personae for the visit, depicted from left to right in the photograph, were Myles Thornton of Warwickshire CPRE, Judith Lowe, a Trustee of Warwickshire CPRE, Sir Andrew Watson, Chairman of Warwickshire CPRE, and Shaun Spiers himself. The chap on the right-hand end, trying to disguise himself as an overstuffed sack of potatoes, is your blogger.

My script for the visit would come as no surprise to regular readers of my blogs. I said that the improvements that HS2 Ltd had made following the public consultation, and which Mr Spiers had “welcomed”, appeared to be concentrated in a few high-profile areas, whereas other areas had in fact seen changes that increased the environmental impact (refer to The ups and downs of route engineering, posted 9 Feb 2012). I told him that our local community representatives had submitted a proposal to avoid environmental damage by using a bored tunnel, but that this proposal had been lodged with HS2 Ltd for the best part of a year without any meaningful response (see Changing of the guard, posted 2 Apr 2013). I ventured that the retained cutting that was the solution adopted by HS2 Ltd to reduce the damage to our ancient woodland would not achieve very much in this respect (refer to Doing it on the cheap, posted 4 Mar 2012). I emphasised that we had been pushing HS2 Ltd to reduce the trackbed height, especially across the Leam Valley, in order to reduce the environmental impact, but that we had seen no results from this pressure (A change of heart, posted 18 Apr 2013).

I must say that Shaun Spiers seemed to be a very personable chap and he appeared to listen carefully to what he was told. It would be foolish, and arrogant, for me to expect any noticeable change in the policy of the CPRE National Office to result from my thirty minutes with the Chief Executive, however persuasive I might think that I had been. The best that I can hope for, I think, is that some of what I had to say will register and that there might be a post-visit discussion between Mr Spiers and Ralph Smyth in which some of my points might be included. In this respect, it is a shame that Mr Smyth was not there to hear for himself.

As far as my life as a blogger is concerned, there was one ego-boosting snippet that came out of the general discussion. Unprompted I swear, Mr Spiers said that he knew about my blogs (ego inflation), but that he was too busy to read them (ego deflation). He did add however that Ralph Smyth has read some of my blogs (ego reflation). I said, somewhat abashed, that I had perhaps not been very kind to the pair of them. He didn’t seem to mind.

But it wasn’t only my ego that received a boost that day, my spirits were also fortified by a sight that I saw whilst I was walking back home. I noticed an unusual bird on the top of a parked car in one of the streets in the centre of our village. As it flew around I could see that it had a very prominent white and black tail pattern, a clear field mark of a Wheatear (or more correctly a Northern Wheatear). These birds are on passage at the moment from sub-Saharan Africa to their upland breeding grounds in northern and western Britain, and so can pop up almost anywhere. However, this was the first that I have seen so close to the built-up environment.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Cubbington Action Group management committee member Rosemary for assisting with the visit and taking the group photograph.

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