Cotswolds in the future
PUBLISHED: 09:32 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013
Exactly a year ago, Mark Child wrote of the changes that had taken place in the Cotswolds over the previous four decades. Here, he turns his attention to how things might be in 40 years time. A work of fiction, he says
A small electric car with blacked-out windows stops at the Pass Point at the top of Burford's hill. As the Pass Point Keeper hurries out with his remote electronic reader, a window retracts and an anonymous hand is extended, holding a plastic card. On this are printed the words 'Personally Identified Significant Status', and a set of fingerprints.
The card is inserted into the electronic reader, followed by the fingers of the bearer. A light on the top of the machine turns green. The Pass Point Keeper notices that the occupation of the holder is given as 'Artist'. There are a lot of those in the Cotswolds, he thinks. Fingers and card are removed, and withdrawn into the darkness of the car. The Pass Point Keeper waves the vehicle on, over the Burford suspension bridge; no words are spoken.
Such encounters are not always that anonymous, even in this area, where blacked-out windows and dark glasses have long been commonplace. The Pass Point Keeper recognises certain individuals by their idiosyncrasies. The flamboyant cuffs, for example, that distinguish the wearer as the amiable, elderly Lord Bowen of Siddington, who has been associated with Blackpool illuminations for as long as anyone can remember. Such a nice man, who occasionally gives him a tip. Only last week he offered the sartorial gem: 'never wear floral fronts with leather breeches'. Ah, the old ones are the best! And he always knows the still-comely Dame Hurley by her perfume; a lovely lady who now owns both Upper and Lower Hurley, which both still have such enjoyable characteristics.
It would be so much better, thinks the Pass Point Keeper, if iris recognition had been introduced. But that would have meant a momentary exposure of the face, something to which few of the more egocentric holders of Significant Status would agree. Anyway, why should he care? He is part of the real backbone of the Cotswold economy now. Strange to think, though, that England's immigrant backbone once sailed in on the Windrush, and here he is with his feet very nearly in it.
Indeed, the Cotswolds is such a watery place, now that global warming has so affected the weather. The Severn Barrage, 22 years in the building, currently several trillion pounds over-budget, and only partially complete, nonetheless succeeded in giving Gloucestershire a coastline. Now that parts of the Vale of Berkeley are flooded, the map looks very different to how it did 40 years ago. The ports of Stonehouse and Winchcombe are doing very well; at the latter, the famous pottery has been relocated onto the quay and renamed Winchcombe-super-Ware.
All of the old canals have been opened up, widened by the compulsory purchase of adjacent lands under the leaked Green Routes Are Seriously Political (GRASP) report, which came onto the statute books as The Act for Creating Commodity-bearing Water Routes 2020, and are now the main means of transport within the region. The area is now completely linked to London and the Midlands by wide, navigable waterways. These are also the main source of leisure activities in Cotswoldia, with countless thousands of people holidaying on them every year.
Residential floating towns have been built alongside the canal at Stroud and Brimscombe and the economy of both places has prospered. New city walls completely enclose Gloucester, successfully holding back the waters, and returning a medieval feel to the place. The whole western area has been redesignated Severnsea, and has become a lure for tourists, especially from China and the Asia Pacific region.
Severnsea, and the adjacent Cotswoldia, were created out of Gloucestershire and parts of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, by Act of Parliament (An Act for the Creation of Severnsea District and Cotswoldia National Leisure and Pleasure Park, 2028). Under it, the Government levied particularly high business rates on all companies and organisations 'involved in importing and exporting and maritime occupations of any nature whatsoever'. In that peculiar way that British legislation has for 'catching' situations that it was allegedly 'not meant to cover', hobby fishermen in the area's rivers and streams have since found themselves having to pay the same industry taxes as deep sea trawlers. The Government says it will soon initiate an official Enquiry to look into this.
It is no accident that rich tourists come to Cotswoldia mainly from China and Asia. In the opening years of the century, as recession hit a western world that was increasingly jittery over the instability of base oil prices and the future of oil deposits, these were the expanding economies. International oil companies and motor manufacturers invested widely in China, Asia and India. Their surprised governments were nonetheless wise enough to allow only foreign partnerships with state-run organisations. It enabled them to eventually foreclose on 'foreign interference', and take complete control of hugely lucrative businesses. That is where the money comes from now.
It was Far Eastern money that financed the Severn barrage, the Gloucester city protection scheme, and the establishment of Cotswoldia - England's great Leisure and Pleasure Park. Every franchise in Cotswoldia can be traced back to owners in China or Asia, and - unbeknown to the franchisees - are constantly being bought and sold through international markets by major venture capitalist organisations. Practically, the British government has little to do with Cotswoldia.
Back at the start of the millennium, the Burford Pass Point Keeper's parents had slipped in under the radar - to be absolutely correct, under the Channel tunnel night train from Calais - and had entered the silent world of the illegal immigrant. How proud they would have been of his achievement, daily touching the hands of the rich and famous: the persons of Significant Status. These were the people whose contributions to the national economy had exempted them from paying the tolls imposed on all road travel in Cotswoldia. To others, of course, he simply hands out the Cotswoldia tokens that allow motor progress on its roads, tracked by the Cotswoldia satellite.
Of course, everyone still does have a car. But since the Act for the Suppression of Private Motor Cubic Capacity 2026, the physical size of new or imported vehicles, their engine capacity, maximum speed, and method of power have been strictly controlled by legislation. This followed years of variable motor taxation. Before the Act, the Government tried to convince motorists that taxing motor vehicles by the size of their engine was saving the planet rather than swelling the coffers of the Treasury. Nobody bought that one; most people were too concerned with the cost of road fuel (which also carried a heavy Government tax) to buy much else.
The Act provided for the phasing out of all 'non-conforming' vehicles by 2040. Then came the Act for Creating Turnpikes and Toll Roads 2027, which gave councils the authority to charge for driving along all roadways in their areas; to levy a charge for parking vehicles on roads, and another for using private driveways. Only garaged vehicles are exempt. This has made Cotswoldia a safer place, its citizens much healthier, and its roads much less congested. The money raised by what is known as 'The Turnpike Act' has enabled local authorities to create free public car parks for visitors in every town and village. This has encouraged visitors, and helped to boost a resurgence in retail. Parking on roads is not permitted in any town or village centre shopping areas.
The Burford Pass Point Keeper is proud of his uniform, with its badge bearing the likeness of Mervyn the Cotswold sheep. He has been told that Mervyn's ancestors 'built the Cotswolds' but he doesn't understand this, as he has so far failed to see a sheep build so much as a garden shed. Possibly, he thinks, the English are mad. Mervyn's engaging countenance also appears on all jute bags distributed in Cotswoldia, and on promotional material such as mugs, pens, and stationery. It also adorns the Cotswoldia satellite. It has occurred to the Burford Pass Point Keeper that this might give a false impression of the human race to a passing alien.
Of course, it all came together at just the right time for the Pass Point Keeper. But it was too late for his parents when it occurred to the Government that the Treasury might benefit enormously by conferring legality on all illegal immigrants who had entered the country since 1990. The passing of the Legalisation of Unspecified Aliens Act in 2032 had opened up so many opportunities for his kind; not the least of which was the right to the minimum national wage. This unforeseen complication had put a number of Cotswold hotels, restaurants, and cleaning operations out of business. At a stroke, the Treasury acquired several million new taxpayers, the revenue from whom could be used to finance wars and insurgencies against the regimes in the countries from where the immigrants originally fled. There was, the Government thought, some kind of justice in this.
It looked as if hotels in the Cotswolds might have a rosy future back in 2008, when budget airlines began to close down, blaming the high price of oil. This meant that thousands of British people who had never holidayed at home, were suddenly forced to do so. They found that they could previously get 10 days in Benidorm for the same price as just two nights in the Cotswolds, and in a much more equitable climate to boot. This started a groundswell of discontent at the high cost of accommodation in Britain. As a result, many more Cotswold hotels were forced to close down.
Yet even this cloud, and those that produced the temperate rains of global warming, provided a silver lining for some. Campsites proliferated all over the area, and craft tent and rope making were revived in Cotswoldia. Today, the camp just outside Chipping Campden - the Chipping Campdown site - is the largest in Britain. And at Chipping Norton, colloquially known as 'Chipping Nowt On', there is a naturist site where, throughout the season, some 100,000 naked people are in residence. A good many traditional hotels have recently reopened, but their room rates - which would previously have been considered to be extortionate - reflect the services now available in the hospitality industry in Cotswoldia.
Global warming also has had a positive effect on economies within Cotswoldia. Almost everything we eat in the area has been produced locally. Climate change enabled us to produce food that it was almost impossible to grow in the region just half a century ago. Of course, this virtually became an economic necessity in 2028 when Parliament passed the Neutral Carbon Footprint and National Self-sufficiency Act, which effectively taxed imports of everything on a price per mile basis, and raised VAT on everything brought into the country.
One of the benefits of this is that thousands of Cotswoldians have discovered the joys of growing, cooking, and making their own. Village shops have returned in abundance to the area, bursting with produce freshly picked in the local gardens; jams, preserves and the like. Smallholdings have come into being to supply each locality; hundreds of very small farms have been established, each on only a few acres, just large enough to supply sufficient meat, eggs, and produce for their local communities. There is now not a single supermarket in Cotswoldia.
Almost everybody in the region works from home, connected electronically to whomsoever they need to do business with around the world. They value the ability to shop locally and to buy from friends, and - freed from interminable travelling - now have the time to experiment in the kitchen. Gradually, family life is being restored as it might have been a century ago. It is as if the supermarkets and their lifestyle gurus had never existed.
The traditional crops are back in the fields of Cotswoldia, and oil seed rape has been banned. The yellow fields have turned once more to gold, and almost forgotten fauna and flora is coming back. The ban on oil seed rape followed years of lobbying by organisations representing the negative effects of asthma, hay fever, and eczema; environmental groups, and residents for whom the sweet, sickly stench coming from field after field of the plant was making life unbearable.
Of course, the drug companies whose products treated the real or imaginary effects of Oil Seed Rape Syndrome lobbied with equal intensity for Cotswoldia to remain the oil seed rape centre of England - the so-called 'Yellow Hectares'. But their cause was lost when William V, on a visit to the area, sneezed. It was realised that the National Lottery Health Service couldn't afford the drugs, anyway.
At Bourton-under-Water (now twinned with Venice, whose latest official guide book refers to the Italian city as 'the Bourton of the Adriatic'), visitors can moor their boats in a giant basin where the high street once was. This has had a huge restorative impact on village trade, which had been in severe decline after being hit by nearly three decades of recession, the taxing of motorists off the face of the Cotswolds, and everywhere the prohibitive cost of public car parking.
Burford has at last got its bypass, a long suspension bridge connecting Burford hill with the Stow road. No longer do huge juggernauts rumble incessantly up and down the high street, mainly because there is no high street to rumble up and down. A number of ancient buildings had to be demolished to construct the gigantic Windrush Marina where once was Burford Bridge and the river's flood plain.
Tewkesbury's annual Flood Month Festival is a huge money-spinner for the town, to the extent that the economy takes a dive when the deluge is less than hoped for, and tourists and the press stay away. In 2040, following three years when the town was not flooded, it was touch and go for the survival of several companies that organise extreme watersports there.
At Stow-on-the-Wold, Lord Clarkson, using an electronic device in his antique turbo-charged Bath chair, has just unveiled a faceless sculpture. It is called 'The Unknown Cotsaller'. The plaque attached to it reads: 'This statue, unveiled 1 October, 2048, in the presence of the Mayor, Mr Chang and town officials Mr Wu and Mr Wang, as a memorial to generations of people who were born, bred, and lived their lives in the Cotswolds (a former district of Cotswoldia). No true Cotsaller has been recorded for many years, and the breed is thought now to be extinct.'
2048 Visions of the future...
Dr Gordon McGlone of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust:
`The climate of the Cotswolds in 40 years time will be quite different. If present trends continue we will see hotter, drier summers, changing patterns of rainfall and more storms. This will stress some of our native species and open the door to new colonists and aliens. Our characteristic beech trees will be struggling to survive, and some our small wetlands will be gone. The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is pioneering Wildlife Highways across Gloucestershire that connect existing habitats and fills in major gaps. Unless our wild plants and animals have freedom to move, by 2050 we could see the loss of up to a quarter of the species that make the Cotswolds so special today
Lesley Archer, chief exec, Gloucestershire Rural Community Council: `Gloucestershire's villages will develop as communities that work together to become increasingly self-sufficient with less dependency on the outside world. They will do this by producing their own vegetables, recycling their waste, generating their own energy sources and supporting each other by providing services locally. They will be very special places. The majority of the population will live in an urban setting and rural areas will be increasingly valued for the environmental, social and cultural services that they provide.
Mark Borkowski, head of Borkowski PR and author of the recently published The Fame Formula.
Currently the Cotswolds are attracting a raft of interesting people, migrating from the metropolitan centres to reinvent the way they live their lives. This is creating a very eclectic enclave which is developing the Cotswolds into becoming a significant brand. The legacy of these individuals is going to promote a greater sense of Cotswold nationalism. Expect an enormous fence - the last creative work of Damien Hirst, surrounding and enclosing the new republic - brand Cotswolds. In this gated community, expect to wonder at remarkable buildings developed at Lower Mill Estate by the Water Park's Jeremy Paxton and enjoy perusing the bunkers of stored art and treasures that are only safe in the Cotswolds as the rest of the country has been affected by global warming. Heathens are regularly heard banging on the gates of the New Jerusalem. Plagues and diseases have swept through the land, but the Cotswolds remain a safe and clean haven for the good, the great and all luxury brands. Only the very gifted can visit, and they regularly fly in to the ultra chic Kemble airfield to escape the new world problems which exist in the rest of the UK.
Chris Dee, manager of Gloucestershire tourism:
`The Cotswolds has a bright future in terms of tourism and is likely to continue to be the area's biggest contributor to the economy. By
then the value of tourism to the economy will be fully appreciated by the local population and planners alike.
Tourists will have changed though. When my job is advertised, it's likely that candidates will find the ability to speak Cantonese or Russian a distinct advantage. There's a life cycle to international tourism and so the current generation of Russian and Chinese
students experiencing the Cotswolds, as part of a day trip from London, will be inspired (as were the Americans and Japanese in the 80s) to return years later for a longer stay years later with their families. By then, they will be more sophisticated international travellers, although every B&B will offer a rice cooker alongside tea making facilities.
Most UK tourists will be unable to afford by travel by car and the County Council's enterprising Fosse Way underground railway will win several
innovation awards, presented by King William V at Kemble International.
Amongst higher spending customers there will be a 2 year waiting list for the area's first 5,000 a night hotel room, which will be ultra minimalist
with Gideon's Bible available as a podcast.
Gloucester will be the most important city in the South West, reflected by Gloucester Rugby Club's 10th successive win of the Donnington Brewery Premiership (playoffs will have been abolished) and the city's successful bid for European City of Culture.'