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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Market towns 'risk blandness'
The annual cheese rolling competition in Chester
Chester has retained its character but many other places struggle
A campaign is being launched to protect the distinctive character of English rural towns amid fears they are turning into bland clones of each other.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England says unique market town high streets are being increasingly dominated by takeaway outlets and chain stores.

And local materials are rarely used for house building, according to its new report The Lie of the Land.

"All it takes for blandness to triumph is to let events take their course," head of rural policy at CPRE Tom Oliver said.

The CPRE warns action is needed soon or the "richly distinctive character of our local landscapes will be gone forever".

In the absence of swift and effective action by government or business, it is down to all of us to decide whether countryside character stays or goes
Tom Oliver
CPRE

Mr Oliver cited "miserably designed housing, futile attempts to build our way out of traffic congestion and inadequate attempts to give farming a purpose" that added to the sense of "anywhere and nowhere."

A recent market town survey by the group highlighted how towns had changed for the worse in the past 15 years with fewer parks and unimaginative house design.

Action plan

A recent development in Ledbury, Herefordshire, came in for harsh criticism.

The Design Award Committee said: "It could be anywhere from Milton Keynes to Welwyn Garden City.


"In Ledbury, traffic levels and road layouts are such that it is not possible to walk or cycle with children along roads from the town centre to the surrounding countryside."

New developments in Alcester, Warwickshire, were also censured for not using local materials.

"In recent years the high street has become dominated by charity shops, takeaways and financial service outlets," the survey found.

And Carnforth, in Lancashire, was found to have only one green open space and a lack of amenities for youngsters.

Mr Oliver said: "In the absence of swift and effective action by government or business, it is down to all of us to decide whether countryside character stays or goes."

The CPRE has suggested a package of measures which includes surveying the local landscapes and creating a visual and written archive.

Also it suggests producing local landscape character assessments and promoting these in local planning and management decisions.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"The only way to stop erosion of the countryside is to engage local people in the development and planning decisions"



SEE ALSO:
Town could turn into 'urban sprawl'
23 Jun 03  |  Hereford/Worcs
Rural body voices airport concerns
11 Jun 03  |  England
'Pollution' threatens night sky
09 May 03  |  Science/Nature


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