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Phil Goode's retirement

The Chairman, Amyas Stafford-Northcote, giving a vote of thanks to Phil The Chairman, Amyas Stafford-Northcote, giving a vote of thanks to Phil

Phil Goode recently stood down as Chief Technical Office for CPRE Staffordshire after serving more than 30 years in the role.

A luncheon was held at the Moat House Hotel, Acton Trussell, to honour his work for the Branch and Staffordshire County. This is a copy of his address to the meeting.

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My departure from the post of Technical Adviser to the Staffordshire Branch of CPRE must be the ultimate reluctant resignation.  As Harold Macmillan said of his reasons for policy changes – “events, dear boy, events”.  So it is for me; the “events” being partly the advance of old age (or seniority as I prefer to consider it,) but also ill health of my wife which now dictates for me a more domestic full time role for the future.

This, my last report to the Branch, is therefore in the nature of a sentimental review of my 30 years with CPRE – and, inevitably, of my earlier career which led me here.  As a schoolboy in the 1940s and being of an idealistic temperament I was much taken with the prospect of lending a hand in creating the post war “brave new world”, so town and country planning seemed an alternative pathway which chimed in with a family love of the countryside.

Early (aged 15!) employment with the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company and subsequently with a firm of Birmingham architects inter-alia redeveloping the technical base of the pottery industry, gave me a “toe-hold” in both the nuts and bolts of technical “planning, surveying and building”, but also a wider and deeper acquaintance with the affairs of Staffordshire County.  After an idyllic start in the beautiful setting of Suffolk a career move within the planning profession brought me to Stafford, serving with the County Planning Department, and forwarding my itchy ambition to “specialise” in the design of Stafford.

In my near 30 years with the County council this “specialism” was expanded  to involve a spectrum of design activities which embraced, broadly speaking, almost the whole of the landscape and the built environment – central area redevelopment / housing layouts / tree planting and protection / conservation areas / archaeology and historic buildings / derelict land reclamation et al.  There was, in my office, an awesome range of professional expertise mobilised around such a catholic agenda, people who were, or became, distinguished in their chosen professions.  As Section Head, whilst I hoped that I was motivating and coordinating such a motley range of talent, perhaps responsibility for pay and rations defined my role.

I recall with particular delight a “duty” which fell to my section which was to raise locally the profile of European Architectural Year 1968.  My team included not only model makers and exhibition craftsmen, but two technical draughtswomen who complimenting each other’s talents created and marketed publicity material of all kinds including even a tea towel of gold medal quality of design.  Hardly main-stream strategic planning but it did raise the public image of the County’s “architectural heritage” to a huge degree – and made a profit to boot!

It was also an era which, at least initially, delegated much of everyday planning to the many small local Authorities before the progressive amalgamations of Authorities expanded their size and roles.  I benefitted from close working and personal relationships with the surveyors to these local authorities, widely varied individual characters from the shrewdly thought out to the more smoothly-polished, but each with a fierce independence.  I salute their memory.

Local Government reorganisation in 1974 transferred most nuts and bolts planning work to the newly-formed and enlarged District Councils.  Time to retire or transfer to one of the new councils, an alternative with few attractions, mostly requiring organisational qualities which were not my forte.  The County Planning Department had historical ties with CPRE – their aims initially closely coincided.  More to the point the then Chairman or Chief Executive of CPRE was a charming lady, Lillian Hogarth, who could charm the birds from the trees.  I was accordingly “volunteered” to serve as Technical Adviser to the CPRE Executive Committee.  This role I envisaged as a Gandalf like creature, the fount of specialised planning wisdom, but remaining aloof and separate from mundane concerns.  I was to be fairly quickly disabused of this notion; in short if there was to be a CPRE involvement in the planning process I was the one elected for the task.

So our planning work became established – this was the early 1980s.  It was not easy.  Even within our committee there were fierce differences of opinion over the relative role of planners (and architects), but cordial relations and accommodations were established notably with architect Mick Woodhams and Reg Silvester. Similarly the agricultural industry had an able advocate in Bobby Friend, a north Staffordshire farmer who fought his corner more than ably!  There was fortunately a solid predominance of countryside lovers including these personalities and embraced such stalwarts as Gordon Myatt, Gordon Hodgkinson; their wives also participated in the social side of our comradely assembly.

CPRE work at one time or another extended to production and display of exhibitions, talks to interested local bodies (the Women’s Institute were always interested and I became word [if not tune] perfect in singing Jerusalem at these events) and, of course, on tree planting activities.  At first we ourselves actually planted quite extensive plots of land, but with advancing age we involved ourselves in a partnership with the County Council.  We paid for and planted, and grew on young “whips” in our nursery, and County council work experience volunteers planted them out.  Withdrawal of government funding brought this to an end, but awards were made to schools and organisations in a CPRE competition.

The planning bedrock of our work became progressively more onerous with housing encroachment nibbling at the countryside, changes in farming practise and County Market regulations leading to prairie farming, larger fields and loss of trees and hedgerow.  Dutch Elm Disease added to our woes at this time.

Recently – and currently – threats and changes to the countryside are implicit in the many demographic and population changes forecast with a grim inevitability.  More population implies more land-take (often of countryside although we fight back citing the brown field reserves to be just used up); buildings encroaching on countryside get more and more huge and less capable of assimilation into the landscape, and the drive for “green” policies is increasingly taken to promote wind turbines, each site denying the country-lover restful appreciation of the natural landscape.

In the name of “sustainability” building schemes are promoted which defy the very definition of that name, and bring in their wake a dispersal of population country-wide which actually extends the need for its residents to travel yet further to access employment and all the central services that modern society need – “sustainability it is not.

Common sense and an appreciation of the value of conserving food producing land – they are not making any more of it! – needs to be tenaciously and consistently emphasised and backed up by sound arguments.  This is the task that has occupied CPRE Staffordshire and defined in recent years my role, and our County work has been immeasurably buttressed by our colleagues in National Office and the Regional Office, especially in our current weakened staff position.

There has never been great need to conserve and augment the beauty of our countryside heritage.  If there must be more population then the need for landscape beauty and relaxation also grows.  If there is a need for more building then the imperative to build gracefully in composition of great architectural beauty is stronger still.  I retire with regret, from active participation but with my early beliefs in these aims – and those of CPRE – strengthened rather than eroded.

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