As I peer forward to modest 80th birthday celebrations in March, I realise the Norfolk of my lifetime has fed many a rustic fantasy even while our past was being torn up in pursuit of increased profits on the back of environmental destruction.

So short-sighted a programme first came to a head in the 1980s when the pace of change turned into  something akin to a gallop, with hedges ripped up, ancient woodlands disappearing at an alarming rate and precious green meadows smothered in concrete.

Meanwhile, gentrified values built on phoney rural nostalgia, much of it spread by glossy brochures from ambitious estate agents and cosy television dramas full of thatched cottages and happy serfs cavorting round the maypole, colonised many of our better-looking countryside corners.

As even more development juggernauts awaited signals to advance, the most blatant rip-up merchant of them all, Nicholas Ridley, secretary of state for department of the environment, made a complete mockery of his government’s pledge of less centralisation and wider local freedom.

He convinced councillors and planners in predominately rural areas there was little point in opposing applications for major blots on the landscape even if Ridley & Co were  furnished with acres of objections and plenty of good reasons for them.

That brand of Whitehall arrogance did spark a meaningful response with which I  was proud to be associated, an inspiring Give A Day For Norfolk conference at Wymondham College in September 1988. Deep concern for our county was the bond uniting bodies many may have dismissed as traditional enemies. Like the National Farmers’ Union and Friends of the Earth.

Invited to set this special event in motion, I emphasised we were not a collection of old buffers, middle-aged, middle-class missionaries and dewy-eyed idealists. We formed a campaigning conscience of a largely reluctant population, a fast-growing population, many of whom would be only too anxious to grab all benefits going without bothering to size up any consequences of too much rapid and artificial growth.

Norfolk did not want to be turned into “the tarty younger sister of the Home Counties”. 

We believed day-to-day protection of our environment was a local duty. Different people had to be trusted to make different decisions for different places

It was not enough to look at a map of Norfolk, decide there had to be plenty of room to spare and inform the natives they jolly well ought to be flattered so many bright people wanted to come and live among them.

Over 35 years on, those sentiments urgently demand a fresh airing as frightening figures mass behind remaining hedgerows, thousands upon thousands of hungry field-eaters ready to charge in  waving a highly dubious “build-out of-recession” pamphlet.

There’s no galvanising government ogre figure operating now in the Ridley mould. However, the general philosophy is the same being espoused by both main political parties as general election fever mounts  - to impose an unyielding code of building practices on those who muster the infernal cheek to oppose “the national good.”

It brings an extra verse to that “We’re all in this together” anthem long topping the charts to drown out plaintive choruses of “No-one is listening!” and “Bland dormitories are springing up like weeds” from those who know an uncaring and unrestrained housing market when they see one.

Some comparatively small battles have been fought and won in communities where properly organised protests broke through the “gain barrier” put up by developers smart enough to convince local councillors their schemes carried enough long-term benefits to outweigh any amounts of ugly disruption or character assassination.

Turn of this year, though, remains littered with applications for loads more massive developments, not least on the fringes of Norwich and so-called market towns where sprawl often waits for basic infrastructure to catch up and “quality of life” turns into a distant echo.

Can we dare to hope for any kind of cavalry to ride to our rescue? Well, I cling to a belief that the county branch of the Campaign to Protest Rural England still offers best chance to at least put a brake on  that runaway expansive bandwagon. Their Vision for Norfolk launched five years back signalled an important breakthrough.

Little armies across the area were encouraged to start or renew battles buoyed by knowledge that a large and influential body was tuned into their concerns. Yes, that fatalism curse could be lifted.

Perhaps that CPRE rallying cry can be repeated at start of another starkly challenging year. Who knows, that might lead to a Give Another Day For Norfolk summit for those who truly care as well as inspire a few more unlikely partnerships.