So what is my point of view? That depends where I’m standing. Thanks to the Open University retirement project for clapped-out comics run by the BBC (I’m as mystified by it as you are, by the way), I have recently been sent off to trace some forgotten routes through our poor, sagging landscape.
You remember that landscape: the one celebrated in legend and those glossy books with castles on the covers, the one you may not have seen for a while, because, like me, you are probably off on a long-haul flight to gawp at Australia’s Ayers Rock (aka Uluru).
So I trekked across countryside recently under threat from new planning initiatives and major housing demands. As a nation, we were informed we faced recession unless we were prepared to wreck the landscape – according to the business pages of the broadsheets, developers, economic pundits and George Osborne.
The government panicked. The planning regulations were torn up. Our sense of priorities warped before our very eyes. Luckily, a lot of people called out “Woah! Hold on a minute” and the draft planning proposal was altered. Phew. So are we safe?
I hope so. I found the countryside in better, more breathtaking shape than ever. There is still the hypocrisy of a green tokenism. Randomly deposited industrial wind farms still pop up in a fulfilment of a hectic ambition that won’t solve ten per cent of our energy needs. (Belt, braces, cardboard garterette, anyone?)
But, as I crested the Cambrian mountains, or stood gazing over Cotswold hillsides near Sudeley Castle, or waded through a marsh in remotest Essex (all on your behalf, I hope you understand), I rejoiced in the gorgeous British Isles. The sheer variety of our landscape is staggering. The range of folds, dimples, indents, creases and nicely rounded swellings is dumbfounding.
And, the hand of man has adorned this place with elegant craftsmanship. Farms were built under the nook of a hill, out of the wind. Towns were still settled clusters with higher steeples or castle walls in the middle bit. Roads rolled away. This is the result of years of proper planning. It is not accidental.
It is not elitist to care about the countryside. It is not old-fashioned. It is not the preserve of old age pensioners, or out-of-touch aesthetes, or little Englanders, or sentimentalists, or soppy nature worshippers or selfish nimbyists to require that this balance endures, and that our government ensures that it does. It is the proper demand of a citizen.
The landscape is just as much part of the urgent remit of our state as housing or transport or the National Health Service. It is our shared birthright. It belongs to you and, more importantly to your great, great, great grandchildren.
So don’t let them destroy our shared beauty in the name of a short-term economic sticking plaster. Buildings never go back to fields. Cheap, shoddy solutions are never eradicated with time. Rage, rage, rage against indiscriminate barbarity.
It is cool. I promise. And with the new planning regulations focusing on local opinion, your voice is needed more than ever. It’s time to get involved before self-interest takes over, because, let’s face it, “imbyism” – that really is selfish.
Griff Rhys Jones presents Britain’s Lost Routes on BBC1, Thursday at 8.00pm
This is an edited version of an article published in the Radio Times (26 May – 1 June)