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Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 16:49 UK
England's Green and Pleasant Land


Is rural life at risk?

Two years ago TV presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen made a decision that was to change his life forever.

He and his family decided to move away from the bright lights of London and head west in search of a better way of life.

He says the move has been a success - his children have benefitted and he himself has become very involved with his local community.

But two years on, he feels much of that community is under threat and he's presenting a documentary for BBC West, exploring some of the things that are putting rural life at risk.

One of the issues that most concerns Laurence is how government legislation impacts communities in the countryside - especially when it concerns decisions about where to build new houses.

Going "In Search of England's Green and Pleasant Land" Laurence takes a balloon ride over Bristol, where he sees a city bursting at its boundaries with plans for thousands of new homes - many to be built in the greenbelt near the village of Dundry.

Aerial view of Clifton suspension Bridge
Laurence viewed the vest expanse of Bristol from above

Local resident Debbie Nicholls is campaigning against the development plans.

She tells Laurence: "It's absolutely horrendous; they're going to totally annihilate the greenbelt."

Concerned about the spread of urban Bristol into the countryside that surrounds it, Laurence goes to meet one of the people behind the controversial plans.

John Baker, the executive director of Baker Associates, says: "The city's always grown and changed. You can't freeze a place.

"Greenbelt was a policy dreamt up in the thirties and plonked in this country when we didn't have any decent planning."

Laurence fears what's happening in Bristol will set a precedent for the rest of England. He's worried that if developers get away with expanding Bristol into the countryside then no greenbelt land in the country will be safe.

But the pressure to build new homes on green fields isn't the only threat facing rural communities.

Laurence feels that the loss of local services like rural post offices and village pubs is already having an impact.

It's the countryside that sets us aside

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

The British Beer and Pub Association says 13 rural pubs are closing down every week. Many are now turning to tradition to survive, with skittles becoming a growing sport in the West.

Laurence visits the King's Arms in Taunton where bowling leagues and social bowling teams are helping to keep the business going.

Laurence thinks the preservation of rural traditions is crucial for the survival of the countryside.

He says: "The specialness that you try and find in this country is actually in the countryside. Having seen it from both sides, it's not the cities, it's not the towns, it's the countryside that sets us aside."

In Search of England's Green & Pleasant Land can be seen on BBC Four at 7.30pm on Thursday 2 July, 2009.

It will also be available on the BBC's iPlayer service for seven days after the original transmission.

2.5bn development plan for city
26 Feb 09 |  Bristol
Protest over new West homes
07 Oct 08 |  UK

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