What could be quieter than the location of Lydd in Kent, the Romney Marsh town whose church tower is known as “the cathedral of the marshes”. To the west of Lydd, army ranges and the road to Rye and Camber. To the east, the road to Old and New Romney which cuts through agricultural land known primarily for sheep farming. Along this road, just outside the town, is Lydd Airport – a small aerodrome which was once used by Dan Air (a famous name from the 1970s) for short-haul services to France, and which continues to cater for a modest, yet growing amount of low-key traffic.
However, the peace of Romney Marsh could be shattered forever if the go-ahead is given to the Middle Eastern company which owns the airport, to run large-scale passenger services. Already, there are some ominous signs – and signposts. For example, on driving up to the gates of Lydd airport, the passenger is told that he or she is at “London Ashford Airport” – a very imaginative approach indeed to marketing and geography, given that Lydd is a 70-mile or so drive from the capital city (which already provides the burgeoning population of the South-East with three airports).
Global business lobby
A number of environmental action-groups have been formed to counter the threat of this latest proposal for airport expansion (the North Kent marshes, with their unique wetland bird habitats were spared a couple of years ago after furious local protests); and the issue has been brought to public attention in the form of some evocative newspaper articles about the spirit of Romney Marsh. But as ever, the global business lobby exercises huge power – and perhaps surprisingly, there are also many individuals within Kent business organisations and local authorities who believe that the only raison d’etre to life is to build new motorways, ring-roads, and more ring-roads to run rings around the existing clogged up traffic system. “If we need a new road, build it” exclaimed one business-Stalinist at a county local business convention in Ashford in 2001 – the “gentleman” apparently having not a single thought for any other consideration or consequence.
Let us be clear what is at stake here. As the Campaign to Protect Rural England warned, not only would the expanded airport cause immense problems with overloaded marshland roads, but the daily impact of Boeing 737s roaring across the small coastal communities and villages – trailing kerosene in their wake – would make for an environmental disaster. But the problem would not be confined simply to the marshland… Circling jets, waiting for their landing slots, would disturb the peace, quiet and solitude of the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the mass of aircraft making it increasingly difficult to sustain the rich and enriching local bird population, particularly rare species, and the patterns of bird migration across nearby Dungeness, home of an RSPB reserve. Once again, CPRE provides a perfect clarification of the matter at hand… and what a pity that one leading Conservative and Cameronite chose to deride this valuable body of concerned and dedicated volunteers as “the campaign to preserve posh people’s gardens” – a truly depressing comment for a supposedly “green party”.
In an increasingly overcrowded South East, with an artificially inflated population, and the ongoing phenomenon of the London overspill moving further and further away from the horrific problems of congested and crime-ridden Inner London, there has never been a greater need to preserve what remains of the remoteness of the Kent countryside. And in the case of Romney Marsh, there is so much within that “fifth continent” which stands for the England which we need so desperately to preserve: the reed-beds and heron-priested banks of dykes and waterways which criss-cross the landscape; the mediaeval church of St. Clement at Old Romney – which looks as though it has grown roots into the very soil; the vast skies and sunsets over the Channel coast, where the Home Guard kept watch in the dark days of the last war. I wonder if such places would ever inspire David Cameron to venture down for an environmentally-concerned photo-opportunity – or is “the environment” just about expensive trips to the North Pole, US Government spokesmen talking about “carbon footprints”, or the plight of the Third World or faraway countries and indigenous peoples?
Once again, the future of a recognisable and rooted place, with its own special culture and local quirks – not to mention a rare ecology, natural history, and treasured tranquillity – stands or falls on the decision of faceless officials, and the whims of foreign entrepreneurs. And despite the current clamour for “green taxes” and for the increased taxation of air travellers, there seems to be a strange predisposition on the part of our rulers toward building new airports and extra runways – a peculiar mismatch of aims! For hundreds of years, Romney Marsh has maintained its sense of separation and feeling of wild mystery – providing a sanctuary for many weekend visitors, and a pleasingly rural habitat for the people who live there. How terrible that the slow passage of time – the essence of any civilised or conservative society – should be sacrificed to the short-termism of the global free-market, and the balance-sheets of the money-men and philistine modern state bureaucracy. We need to preserve the natural and national heritage of our island – we need to save Romney Marsh.
- Mike Smith
- Mike Smith, is Chairman of the Conservative Democratic Alliance (CDA). He was formerly on the Executive Council of the Conservative Monday Club. He is a Chartered Surveyor. Distinguished members of Mr Keith-Smith's family include James Keith, the legendary Prussian Field-Marshal, and his brother George Keith, hereditary Earl Marischal of Scotland and friend of Frederick the Great. Through his paternal grandmother he is descended from Frederick Philipse, Dutch-born merchant of New Amsterdam. Distinguished members of the family who subsequently made their life in England included General Sir Frederick Philipse Robinson. Smith was a member of the Conservative Party for 32 years, attaining area rank and serving for several years as Vice-Chairman of Portsmouth South Conservatives. In 2002 he was expelled from the party for attacking Iain Duncan Smith in print. Challenging this unlawful expulsion with a writ, he was readmitted and his costs paid by Central Office. In the 2005 General Election he stood as the UKIP candidate for Portsmouth North. Smith recently won a major test case for libel over the internet against a former schoolteacher.