IMAGINE Cheshire without the dawn chorus of a skylark. A county without tall hedgerows, winding country lanes and pea green meadows.
Unthinkable as it seems that Cheshire could end up a sprawling concrete metropolis, a shocking new report reveals the county is rapidly losing its countryside to “creeping” urban development.
The Cheshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has revealed that 70% of Cheshire’s unspoilt countryside has been “intruded” by population needs.
According to the map, undisturbed countryside is shrinking at an alarming rate as the populations of Merseyside and Greater Manchester overspill into Cheshire.
Cheshire’s peace and quiet is increasingly being disrupted by low flying passenger aircraft and increasing traffic levels.
The report concludes that Cheshire is one of the least tranquil of England’s shires, ranking 33rd out of 34.
The map of Cheshire (pictured) reveals increased disturbance marked in red and depleting areas of tranquillity marked in green.
The green areas encompass many of Cheshire’s distinctive villages that run down the Sandstone Trail.
CPRE campaigner Claire Lewis argues that Cheshire’s villages and countryside must be preserved.
She said: “Conurbations in Liverpool, Manchester add to the red areas, Wirral, Warrington are all growing while Crewe is expanding into Nantwich.
“As a county Cheshire’s countryside is valued as distinctive. Chester, which is an historic city which has a worldwide reputation, should have a rural setting.
“The CPRE are campaigning to preserve the character and distinctiveness of Cheshire which we are in danger of losing to corporate land – once the countryside is gone it’s gone.”
CPRE says its new “intrusion” maps show that in the 1960s, about 40% of land in the present county was disturbed by urban intrusion.
By the early 1990s, this had crept up to almost 60% and by 2007 more than 70%.
On a local level, she argues that Cheshire’s green spaces are rapidly “gobbled up,” adding: “Chester’s green belt was designated in the 80s and was almost instantly under attack. The purpose of green belt was to create a boundary between urban and rural and we have spent a lot of time trying to keep it in place.
The success of the M6, M56 and heavy use of Cheshire’s A and B roads alongside the expansion of Manchester and Liverpool John Lennon Airports means easier access to and from the county and inevitably increases urbanisation.
The decline of Cheshire farming industry contrasts to the success of the county’s commerce and service sectors and expanding business parks.
As custodians of the countryside farmers, according to Cheshire NFU, should get more recognition and subsidies to preserve the fields, meadows and hedgerows.
Cheshire communities fighting against over-development have hit the headlines over the last few years. Wardle “eco town”, Aston wind farm, Ince Marsh incinerator and Bickerton wind mast are recent examples of communities fighting plans that would have an impact on neighbouring countryside.
CPRE is calling for longer term measures including:
Stronger central government policies to halt loss of undisturbed countryside
Ambitious targets for recycling brownfield land
Halting airport expansion
Promoting good public transport.