We can’t rely solely on the car forever

The proposed KenEx tram service could cut congestion significantly (pic KenEx, Thames Gateway Tramlink)

With the prospect of the Lower Thames Crossing between Kent and Essex threatening swathes of countryside on both sides of the river, Alex Hills, chairman of Dartford and Gravesham CPRE, says we should be demanding a better transport system

Since the 1950s, successive governments have pursued a transport policy that has had the car as the main form of transport on the basis that building new roads reduces congestion.
This policy has proved to have no basis in fact, with the truth being that building new roads increases congestion and proves more environmentally damaging than suggested while failing to provide the claimed economic benefits.
Other countries did not need the CPRE report The end of the road: Challenging the Road Building Consensus to tell them that an integrated green transport system is needed.
Locally, we have seen the Dartford tunnel built, which would apparently end congestion, then another tunnel and then a bridge – and now a new, very damaging, crossing that would increase both congestion and air pollution in the area.
CPRE is not anti-car – far from it – but to have a sustainable green transport system that does not destroy people’s health there needs to be more investment in other forms of transport.
Gravesend is a hostile environment for cyclists, with existing cycle routes like the ones on the Wrotham and Rochester roads being dangerous for them.
In the town centre, cyclists are banned while in other places there are signs saying ‘Responsible cyclists welcome’.
The bus service in our rural areas is appalling, while train services are struggling to cope with demand.
Green travel plans are not just about infrastructure – they are also about ensuring that trains, trams and buses connect properly so people do not have excessively long waits. They are also about ensuring our transport systems are more disabled- and senior citizen-friendly.
There is some good work being done in this area, with cycling plans being developed for Dartford town centre, Stone Parish Council developing its own cycling plan and Ebbsfleet garden city working extremely hard to develop a green travel plan, while the proposed KenEx tram line would help tackle congestion in the area, reducing traffic at the Dartford crossings by 10 per cent.
Even with other walking and cycling projects, all these projects comprise just a small amount of what is needed.
Rural areas cannot be accessed by non-road transport. For example, there is no pedestrian or cycle path between Istead Rise and Meopham. The goal for district councils, the county council and the government should be to make the car the transport option of last resort.
To get people to use public transport, it needs to be reliable, affordable and able to reach destinations in reasonable time.
Currently, it takes two hours to get from Gravesend to Maidstone by bus and 25 minutes by car – given the choice, no one is going to choose the bus.
To get more journeys completed by walking and cycling, these options need to be made safer, with separate walking and cycling paths away from roads.
It is time we demanded a better transport system.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Lower Thames Crossing… aiding and abetting a killer of thousands

The proposed Lower Thames Crossing will add further strain to Gravesham’s environment

With the prospect of the Lower Thames Crossing between Kent and Essex threatening swathes of countryside on both sides of the river, Alex Hills, chairman of Gravesham CPRE, offers his view on government roads policy while also asking if we’re all doing our bit to tackle air pollution

By continuing to build poorly planned new roads, the government is assisting a deadly force that slaughters 40,000 to 50,000 people a year. This serial killer preys on everyone, especially the young and old – and it is air pollution.
The World Health Organisation is calling for drastic action. It is estimated that up to one-third of asthma-related hospital admissions are caused by air pollution.
This year has seen many new studies on other harmful effects, including damage to unborn children, brain damage and even obesity.
The physical cost to the nation runs into many millions of pounds, aside from the mental suffering, which cannot be priced.
Yet, despite this, the government continues to plan schemes such as the Lower Thames Crossing between Gravesham in Kent and Thurrock in Essex, knowing it will not remove the problems of congestion at Dartford.
The new crossing will increase traffic congestion on both sides of the river and on all north-south routes through Kent, resulting in many more deaths through increased air pollution.
There has been much talk about zero-emission electric cars, but there is no such thing as zero-emission.
Electric cars produce pollution through their tyres, the manufacture and disposal of components (especially the battery, which uses rare metals that are open-cast-mined), building the infrastructure required to support them and the production of the electricity to charge the batteries.
We, of course, are part of the problem and also part of the solution.
Government could do so much more – solar panels on industrial buildings, heat-pump installations in new housing estates and improved building standards including better insulation.
There urgently needs to be a sustainable green transport plan.
There are small things we can all do:

  • Ensure our vehicles are well maintained
  • Make one less car journey per week
  • Use energy-efficient products
  • Walk or cycle to school, work or shops

There is no one simple solution to our air quality crisis, but are you at least playing your own small part?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

We’ve got the power… the future for energy use in this country

The world of energy production is changing rapidly

Fresh from a UK Power Networks roadshow, David Knight, chairman of neighbouring CPRE Essex, offers his thoughts on how our energy needs are being tackled

Early this month I visited a roadshow hosted by UK Power Networks.
This organisation owns and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and the East of England, “making sure your lights stay on”.
The meeting was well attended and had a good spectrum of guests from local authorities, business and groups representing vulnerable people.
While a private company, UK Power Networks is regulated by government organisation Ofgem and has strict performance targets imposed upon it.
These include customer minutes lost, customer interruptions caused by loss of power, distribution cost by customers and customer satisfaction.
It was pleasing to see all the targets showed improving trends but, as it pointed out, UK Power Networks wants to do better.
Using modern technology, we as an audience were able to vote on the importance of various issues and see instantly the results on-screen.
Here I summarise the events discussed:

Data: its use and protection
With climate change upon us, together with new decarbonised, decentralised and digitised energy systems, there will be a need to gather data that will help predict the effects of extreme occurrences in a bid to ensure that power failures can be dealt with in an efficient and timely manner.
Smart-metering systems will play an essential part in this. They are not just a means of monitoring electricity usage but also an instrument that alerts the supplier when local supply cuts have occurred, helping it understand the demands on the network.
Further, the public are offered the chance to feed power back into the network via solar panels (and in future the power stored in our electric car batteries), helping regulate voltage swings.
Smart meters have been an issue as it would appear the first generation was less than perfect, with issues over communication and different IT suppliers, meaning consumers sometimes had to change their smart boxes when changing electricity suppliers. However, the latest generation has supposedly corrected this problem.
UK Power Networks was aware of concerns about data protection and asked a range of questions on which we could vote.
My position was that information from smart meters need not be intrusive into individual households’ means, but more a way for UK Power Networks to provide them the most economical products to suit their needs… a bit like the ‘white meters’ of old.

World of energy
It was made clear that we are and will become more responsible for the production and use of energy in the future.
For instance, we will need to charge our electric cars, sell our surplus electricity back to the National Grid or to others and store energy via battery packs.
Regarding supplies for cars, at present there are two types of charging sources:

  • Low current, long charging time
  • High-current fast chargers

The former effectively involves plugging your car into the domestic supply system every home has, while the latter requires connection from the National Grid via a substation.
There are apparently plans in motion to put a network of these National Grid appliances down the ‘spine’ of the UK.
My view is that all new homes should include a connection to its own domestic supply but with easy access to a fast-charging system. The building industry should bear the cost of this.

Helping customers in vulnerable circumstances
It was good to be informed that UK Power Networks was working in partnership to help customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Using the Priority Services Register (PSR), which already has 1.6 million homes on its data base, it not only targets these groups in the event of power cuts but has provided energy advice and practical measures to more than 300,000 customers to address the underlying causes of fuel poverty.
Nevertheless, with ever-increasing energy costs, more clearly needs to be done.

In conclusion, this was an informative and worthwhile event. The world must move away from fossil-fuel production and, with the sensible and controlled use of modern technology, we can all help this cause and in doing so reduce our costs.
We must, though, bear in mind that information technology, while the norm for younger generations, is more difficult to grasp for other sections of society.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018  

How green is our Brexit?

We are, we are told, leaving the EU. Good or bad news for our natural heritage?

We might all be a little weary of the B word, but the future for our natural heritage once this country has departed the EU is a matter of concern for Graham Warren, chairman of the CPRE Kent environment committee   

The natural environment barely got a mention in the pre-Brexit referendum barrage of half-truths and ‘alternative facts’ and would, even now, struggle to make the top 10 of the government’s shopping list.
It is difficult to evaluate clear environmental gains and losses in isolation from agriculture and other aspects of land use and our natural heritage will perhaps prove especially vulnerable – ‘up for sale’ as it were – in the late-stage trade-offs in the Brexit negotiations.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sees our proposed departure from the EU as an opportunity to treat agriculture and the environment as paired objectives.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is paying landowners £3 billion a year based on farmed acreage, would be replaced with schemes for farmers who enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, establishing wildlife habitat, increasing biodiversity, improving water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows.
This vision was revealed in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, launched in January with a pledge to eliminate waste, create new safeguards for wildlife, connect more children with nature, improve air and water quality and curb the scourge of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The agenda for this ‘green future’ includes:

  • Extension of the five-pence plastic-bag charge to small retailers, with restricted dependence on single-use plastics and inclusion of plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.
  • Creation of 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species and support for farmers in turning fields into meadows and replenishing depleted soils.
  • Provision of £5.7 million to establish a ‘northern forest’.
  • Increased investment in overseas aid to combat poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and to extend marine protection areas.
  • A new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards and set out an approach to agriculture and fisheries management.
  • Promotion of a net environmental-gain principle, locally and nationally, enabling housing development “without increasing the overall burden on developers”.
  • Creation of green corridors linking otherwise isolated habitats.

The plan embodies the principle of ‘natural capital’, founded on:

  • A better understanding of the benefits from nature.
  • Recognition of the environmental assets of clean air and water, wholesome food and opportunities for recreation.
  • A commitment to interact with our natural environment as an essential element in sustaining the economy.
  • The plan sits alongside the programme for implementing the Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions and control climate change.

There will also be a review of the national planning and building regulations to ensure the planning system delivers improved flood resilience and sustainable drainage systems and makes provision for new developments to deliver a ‘biodiversity net-gain’, aiming at the least environmentally damaging locations.
An outline of a 25-year environment plan put forward by Defra in September 2015 envisaged an investment of £3 billion from the CAP to enhance the countryside with a programme focused on Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Beauty, National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
However, this will no longer be available post-Brexit.
Other investments totalling £20m were also identified but will be UK-funded and incorporated in the 25 Year Plan announced this year.
Have these been fully costed and what are the chances of this ambitious programme surviving Brexit, given that our departure would evidently incur severance penalties and possibly trigger a recession?
Further, our national debt has increased over the last 10 years from £560bn to £1,760bn (36 per cent to 85 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a rate unprecedented in peacetime) and is expected to increase.
This is bad timing for a government facing a general election with an electorate preoccupied with the immediate outcome of Brexit and the prospect of a radical reordering of our national priorities to accommodate the strictures of a sinking economy (and there seems little remaining doubt that it will indeed shrink).

In any event, we can expect a new look for the ‘top 10’ agenda, possibly:

  • National Health Service and welfare
  • The Brexit Bill (estimated at £50bn-100bn)
  • Defence (a 50 per cent increase to 3 per cent of GDP)
  • Immigration control and border security
  • National transport infrastructure
  • Servicing national debt
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Agriculture/environment
  • Fisheries

The environment may begin to look like a luxury we can no longer afford. There is already talk of the ‘zombie list’, a review of the 800-1,000 items of environmental legislation inherited from Brussels for incorporation in UK law; many of these could face ‘reform’ by statutory instruments.
In January last year, MPs warned government that environmental protection must not be weakened after Brexit, while the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) chaired by Mary Creagh called on government to introduce an Environmental Protection Act under the Article 50 negotiation and warned of the risks to our countryside, farming and wildlife currently protected under EU law.
There is also a wider global perspective of environmental issues with a direct bearing on our post-Brexit strategy.
Many of the, mainly tropical, countries that export foodstuffs to the UK face increasing levels of water demand for irrigation due to the impact of climate change and over-abstraction, evidenced by depleted river flows and falling groundwater levels.
It is estimated that by 2025 1.8 billion people (20-25 per cent of the world’s population) will be living in water-scarce regions.
There are clear implications for the availability and cost of produce we import from some of these regions and we may need to plan on increasing the proportion of home-grown produce beyond the 40-50 per cent level.
We seem to have the makings of an ideological ‘set-to’ between the need to increase the proportion of productive farmland and the counter-argument, advanced by Mr Gove, for appropriating areas for wildlife.
The latter has obvious attractions, but the penalty could be reduced food security, increased costs and a corresponding increase in the tariff bill.
To put this in context, this country’s net contribution to the EU budget has been estimated as costing the UK taxpayer an average of some £160 a year; this figure includes environmental protection. Compare that with the current level of national debt interest payments per person of more than £200.
As to what all this could mean for Kent, it would seem reasonable to plan on the assumption that any environmental outcome of national significance arising from Brexit and severance from the Single Market and Customs Union will also apply locally… in some cases, such as traffic disruption, air pollution, immigration and the disproportionate loss of greenfield acreage, to a relatively high degree.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Yahoo emails

We’ve been made aware someone is using the info@cprekent.org.uk address to send scam emails to people whose data was compromised in the Yahoo security breach. Be assured that we took immediate steps to stop this but it seems some ‘ghost’ messages might still be bouncing.  If you have a yahoo email address and receive a spoof email seemingly from us, be sure not to click on any links. Contact the office if you are concerned (01233 714540).

posted 26 Oct 2016

Beauty and the beast that stalks the lanes of Lenham

Campaigner Sally Alexander in the countryside she dreads could be destroyed by a lorry park

David Mairs, CPRE Kent Campaigns and PR Manager, joins a group of worried residents as they gather in the rain (yes, really!) to air their fears that a stretch of countryside south of Lenham could be selected by Highways England as the site for a lorry park

It’s perhaps only when you travel the seemingly endless narrow, windy lanes towards Pope’s Hall at Sandway that you appreciate quite what could be lost should nightmare visions of a vast lorry park in the area transform into reality.
Of course, the beauty of the countryside and the spirit-lifting views that stretch in any direction you care to look is not news to most of the 60 or so people who turned out to listen to and, maybe more importantly, speak to local MP Helen Whately about the darkest of clouds that has suddenly blighted their world.
Blight. The word has more resonance here than in most parts of the country. Beautiful it unquestionably is, but intrusion from huge infrastructure schemes is nothing new in this landscape of fields, parks, copses and woods that tumbles down south of Lenham.
Sally Alexander, who helped organise the meeting at Pope’s Hall, talks despairingly about the arrival of both the nearby high-speed rail link and the M20: “My husband says he can’t go through it all again.”
It’s a sentiment doubtless shared by many of those present, while there’s also a common feeling that communication from Highways England, the government agency carrying out the requisite ecological surveys throughout the M20 corridor as well as reportedly along the A2/M2, has been woeful.
CPRE Kent’s Richard Knox-Johnston struck a well-received tenor when he blasted it as “appalling”. People’s properties would be blighted until a decision was made on the siting of any lorry park.
For that matter, when would a decision be made? Highways England should adhere to a strict timeline, said Mr Knox-Johnston.
Mrs Whately, speaking from beneath the gazebo she shared with a few fortunate others, said she agreed with him, as well as with the view that this wasn’t solely a Kent problem.
It was a national issue and should be dealt with nationally, even if the county had to expect something less than beautiful coming its way.
Perhaps more than anything, that was the point people wanted Mrs Whately to take back to government. How much, and for how long, should Kent keep picking up the national tab?
Further, everyone needed to understand quite was in the offing. No longer were we pondering solely the options for a solution to Operation Stack, be they on-road, off-road, short-term, long-term, single-park, multiple-park, here, there or anywhere.
No, now we were looking at tackling ‘fly-parking’, whereby truckers stop in any number of places that aren’t acceptable for anyone and leave all manner of mess, as well as a possible Customs-clearance site, depending on the outcome of, yes, sorry, Brexit.
“We’re looking at a huge security operation on top of everything else,” said one gentleman.
“If we don’t agree free movement of goods, we will need to have customs facilities,” added Mrs Whately.
Continuation of a customs union with Europe might ease some potential problems related to a lorry park, wherever it was built, but with up to 6,000 lorries held back during times of restricted Channel crossing and a regular shortfall of 700-800 parking spaces no one should be in any doubt that a 24/7 operation was likely.
If there were occasional mutterings akin to conspiracy theory, we were also offered the opinion that Highways England could have saved itself a lot of time, and taxpayers’ money, by ruling out this particular site.
It included Grade 1 and Grade 2 agricultural land, we were told, while it was not adjacent to the motorway, meaning access to it would be prohibitively problematic, not to say expensive.
Had Highways England not done its homework?
These were early days, as both Mrs Whately and county councillor Shellina Prendergast were keen to stress to all, but we were hearing the wholly understandable concerns of worried people.
Mrs Whately pointed out that Highways England “had hit” a judicial review after announcing plans for a lorry park, at Stanford, near Folkestone, in December 2015. This time it couldn’t leave anything to chance and had to cover every option.
While it is hard to imagine anyone welcoming such a massive development as a neighbour, it is likewise difficult to argue that a solution to the congestion witnessed in the county in recent years isn’t needed.
Expansion of Ashford International Truckstop near junction 10 of the M20 has just been approved, and that can only be a good thing. How much more Kent will need to surrender remains to be seen, but for this writer at least it would be a tragedy to see the gentle pastures and tree-lined lanes around Sandway and Boughton Malherbe he visited last week lost to the tarmac and fumes forever.

Friday, July 27, 2018

CPRE conference: thoughts from our man in Birmingham

CPRE Kent’s Supreme Court victory over the Farthingloe Valley should have a positive impact for branches and supporters across the country

Now the dust has settled after a crazily busy time for everyone at CPRE Kent, capped by last week’s victory over Farthingloe Valley in the Supreme Court, communications and PR manager David Mairs shares his thoughts after a day in Birmingham at the CPRE Autumn Conference. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of CPRE Kent…       

Less than six weeks after joining CPRE Kent as communications and PR manager at the end of September, I was hurtling (well, trundling) out of Euston towards Birmingham New Street station and, ultimately, the CPRE Autumn Conference.
A delayed train had at least afforded the opportunity to meet fellow CPRE travellers from Sussex and London and of course our own county chairwoman, Christine Drury.
A fascinating day lay ahead, certainly, but a dodgy ticket turnstile at New Street meant I was suddenly on my own and looking for The Studio in Cannon Street single-handed.
Not so easy, given that more than three decades had elapsed since my last visit to England’s second city, but, no matter, I was soon wolfing back canapes before selecting a table in place for the first presentation of the day.
This came from Crispin Truman, CPRE’s new chief executive, who was giving his first impressions of our organisation.
He got under way by presenting “CPRE Town” – a model town that might, if you peered very hard, look just a little like Richmond in North Yorkshire.
Either way, the idea was to show how our towns could be:

  • Offering new affordable housing
  • Community-led
  • Surrounded by beautiful, and accessible, countryside
  • Building on brownfield land where possible
  • Consideration of the town’s historic centre (avoiding the ‘doughnut effect’ of a sugary ring with an empty centre)
  • Strong local transport
  • Litter-free
  • Green space within town
  • Church and/or mixed-use community space
  • Sustainable economy

Idealistic maybe, but what’s wrong with that? Further, aren’t all of these principles desirable and something that all local authorities should be trying to achieve?
Crispin told how he found CPRE to be a positive organisation and he had been unable to find any nimbys – rather, he had discovered positive people who were simply struggling with current government policies.
He spoke of the democratic deficit, where planning policy was being undermined and bypassed, and the unfortunate adversarial approach to housing and roads now evident.
As for the future, Crispin felt we needed to give clearer, simpler messages with more focus. We should be clear in communicating what we do.
And there’s clearly a willing audience, the chief executive pointing out that one of young people’s main concerns is loss of nature.
Other issues he covered were the fact that members wanted more connection between national office and local branches; the concept that CPRE was about solutions as much as about problems; and the need to develop new initiatives and strengthen community fund-raising.
Crispin was impressed and excited by CPRE’s access to government, but we couldn’t do all that we wished on our own – there needed to be collaboration, both internally and with other organisations.
Aside from the need to work better together, one of the lasting questions we were left with by the chief executive was how could we broaden our appeal. This was a theme that was to run throughout the day.
Next up on the podium was Elvira Meucci-Lyons, CPRE director of fundraising and supporter services, who updated us on the membership review and developments with corporate fundraising and legacies.
She stated the ambition of the organisation, which was to broaden its appeal as, if we are to achieve our mission, we require more help. We need greater volume, value and frequency of support from broader audiences than we currently attract, Elvira told us.
And how to do it?… Tell our story better and offer a more relevant experience to the audience we wish to attract.
After Elvira’s presentation came what for me was one of the most interesting and valuable parts of the day: a look at the charity landscape.
Given by a lady whose name I missed from the GOOD Agency, which has worked with such big hitters as the National Trust and RSPB, the analysis painted a bleak picture for organisations such as ours.
The number of donors is dropping (7 per cent in five years); voluntary giving is slowing (a 25 per cent decline in six years); and less than 7 per cent of charity giving goes to environmental causes. As if all that were not enough, the cost of recruiting donors has gone up.
We learnt that most giving is sporadic and occasional, while fewer than half of people aged under 35 give regularly but 79 per cent of over-65s donate on a frequent basis.
We were urged to rewrite the rules of engagement, whatever that meant, and see things from the perspective of supporters, who needed to know why we do what we do.
Finally, CPRE’s position should be moving from that of gamekeeper to facilitator, while Oxfam was given as an example of an organisation that had thought about how to give people of all ages a role.
A workshop followed in which we were asked why does CPRE exist and what is its purpose. Everyone seemed pretty much on the same page with this one, while the idea was mooted of CPRE possibly being “a distress purchase”. You can look that one up…
The final morning session, A Strategy for One CPRE led by branch and regional development manager Antonia White, focused on national office, the regions and the branches “being strong together, working constructively and effectively to common objectives to have the best possible impact for the countryside and the public”.

Four aims were set out:

  • Branches and regions being strong on their own
  • Branches and regions being strong together
  • Branches and regions supporting national office effectively
  • National office supporting branches and regions effectively
  • National office being strong on its own

This was one of the more interactive sessions, with a range of contributions from the floor, while one of the more positive facts to be shared was that CPRE intranet was on its way. We await…
There was also a set of commitments given by national office:

  • Menu of training (essentially more training, especially in relation to campaigns)
  • Fundraising support to branches
  • Addressing planning need through more focus to region plans
  • Planning support work
  • Policy-Campaigns annual cycle
  • Consolidate and update volunteer documents and toolkits

Next up was lunch… and what a splendid treat that proved to be! I plumped for the curry option, as ever, and it was a delight… possibly the best food I have had at such an event.
The only negative was that my time to savour it was limited as I had to head to a lunchtime workshop (such devotion to the cause!).
This related to CPRE’s planned new website and was, for some of us anyway, a tad disappointing with little in the way of new ideas or proposals to get us thinking; we already had a strong idea of what we wanted to do – what we needed was more guidance in helping us deliver it.
It was soon, and perhaps predictably, established that we sought to increase footfall to our national website and encourage visitors to return more frequently. E-newsletters were cited as an obvious way of driving people to the site.
Some of those present felt the current website looked old-fashioned, while others highlighted how in future it could be used to supply information to interested parties, especially in planning matters.
Suggestions as to what the new CPRE site could include, meanwhile, included a Twitter feed down the side of the home page, a simple user guide, objection-letter templates, an archive of old documents, campaign information, case studies, volunteering opportunities, a range of national content with greater local relevance, multimedia content such as videos and live streaming from events. More than one person also expressed the desire for an easier CMS (content management system).
It was all getting a bit techy for me as I concurred wholeheartedly with those who asked for greater IT support in such areas as analytics. Time to move on…
to Tess Kingham (a Kent resident, by the way), who gave us her thoughts having spent time running CPRE campaign training sessions over the past year or so.
Our power potential was enormous but not fully exploited, she said, while also noting that MPs’ fear of CPRE did not equate to the number of people we had on the ground.
She had perceived our strength in planning but also our weakness in social media and having broader campaign strategy PR. Perhaps we should set up a skills audit, she suggested.
Other observations included the requirement for a tailored campaign pack for more integrated operating; a pressing need for more volunteers; a lack of training provision (although there are lots of opportunities to share skills); and the importance of writing letters to the printed media and the sharing of success stories and personal tales rather than constant planning minutiae.
More off the cuff, perhaps, Tess told us we should make sure our research facts and figures were credible and accurate, which probably didn’t need saying; that booklets such as Warwickshire in Crisis were useful tools to send to the decision-makers; and that some local authorities would pay the postage for CPRE deliveries (really! … apparently).
Referring to the training days themselves, Tess had found one-day sessions in campaign training “a bit tight”, saying training should be either generic or bespoke and not mixed, while there was possibly a productive paradox in that reactive work dominated our agenda but it was of course keystone to what we did.
A lady sat next to me thought a review of training sessions that the majority of us hadn’t even attended was not a good use of time. I got what she was saying, and this section could have fallen flat, but thankfully Tess’s more general observations on CPRE were illuminating and valuable.
After this, there was a slight shuffle of the set agenda as CPRE director of campaigns and policy Tom Fyans and campaigns manager Lucy Hawthorne led a review of how we were tackling the issues that concern us:

More political: for example citing the concept of developer v community interest. As a more specific case, the narrative should be set as affordable housing, not the Green Belt. Essentially, “If you think building on the Green Belt will bring down house prices, you’re wrong”.

Also, more media, more interest, more relevance.

More proactive: witness our efforts in relation to NPPF reforms, the Housing White Paper and the Green Belt, among others. Policy is analysis, it’s not influence, said someone, and it was a statement that drew a general murmur of agreement across the room, as did the idea that we should be more positive in how we framed our message.

More integrated: cases included, again, the Housing White Paper, Green Belt Under Siege and the Oxford-Cambridge Working Group.

We were informed of CPRE’s new principles for 2018:

  • More collaborative
  • More positive
  • More human (there are heroes and there are villains!)

The last point related to what we, as people, are doing. It’s not just the technical stuff.
All was not sweetness and light, however, as a lady from Oxfordshire declared her ire that national office had not given more notice to the branches of its forthcoming AONB report, which, we had just been told, had been seven months in the making.
Tom accepted the criticism and, if you couldn’t speak out here, then where could you? We were among friends, after all.
Other speakers from the floor, meanwhile, said that – given all the talk of a homes crisis – there was more per capita housing than ever before; farmland, especially with planning permission for development, was the fastest-growing asset in the country; and CPRE branches were subject to a postcode lottery with a big disparity in funding.
And CPRE in 2018? Key priorities included influencing the NPPF, with a consultation expected to be released early in the year; a campaign on rural affordable housing; a submission on the Raynsford Review of Planning; and the government’s 25-year plan for the environment.
And so it was time to review the day. Going back to where we began it all, chief executive Crispin noted the desire among many present to change CPRE’s image, while he had also taken on board our weakness in areas of fundraising.
Of course we couldn’t let things pass without mention of Brexit and the changes it would bring our rural communities, especially in relation to farming. CPRE, urged a speaker from the floor, should be involved throughout this period of great change.
And with the ever-present wish to accentuate the positive, I’ll echo the words of the one who ventured that CPRE planning skills were unparalleled and we could share them with so many others. Hear, hear!
And Hear, hear! to the newly introduced drinks reception, a chance to drink a little, eat a little and talk a little.
Sadly, the chance to then hit the bright lights of Birmingham was not afforded me as David Morrish, the new chairman of CPRE Thanet committee (a post I once held) and a native Brummie, had a family engagement in town and so I was left to head for New Street and home on my lonesome.
It had been a long day, so what were my thoughts upon being immersed in the world of national CPRE?
As ever with such things, some parts of the event were better than others and I got the idea that not everyone had engaged with the speakers or indeed subjects as much as they might.
This wasn’t helped by the layout – during workshops, for example, it was sometimes very difficult to hear people on your own table above the noise from those on other tables.
There was a little too much metropolitan ‘blue-sky’ speak for my liking, but then I’m a Thanet boy and there are few places where English is spoken more earthily.
For all that, it was without question a worthwhile venture, perhaps most of all because you got to meet people from CPRE branches across the country. In truth, this will always be the strength of such events – it is encouraging and emboldening to know that others are as involved and as passionate about the countryside as you are your colleagues are.
It was also apparent that CPRE Kent’s financial position is viewed with some envy. Be under no illusion, your stout yeoman (me!) was on hand to clarify that we weren’t able to simply “to wheel out the barristers” as and when, as someone put it, but I did realise that some branches even in affluent areas you might expect to be core CPRE territory have next to no resource.
Again, it was important to highlight that victories for CPRE Kent in such cases as Farthingloe have national resonance, with all branches benefiting as important legal principles are established.
I had some empathy with the gentleman from Warwickshire who said CPRE needed to be “more combative, less nice” in response to a government that, he believed, had been “working behind our backs” in the way it had foisted housing numbers upon so many of us.
“Be terribly blunt, be terribly open – we’ll get more members,” he said.
Yep, I’ll go with that.
It was evident that many of those present wanted more training in such areas as campaigning and IT, as well as greater support on the “planning frontline”. Again, it’s hard to argue.
And finally? Yes, you can breathe a collective “Phew!”…
CPRE is very much alive and kicking. A cliché, I know, but these are times of extraordinary change and we all need to be able to meet the range of challenges ahead.
I saw that our organisation has people – young and older alike – with a fantastic range of abilities and the passion to fight for what they believe. We have to adapt, certainly, and many of us need to broaden or enhance our skills set, but collectively there’s no one better equipped to fight for the countryside we love.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

From cycling to the impact of the Lower Thames Crossing, these are lively times in Gravesham

Shorne: a village close to the planned route of the Lower Thames Crossing

CPRE Gravesham chairman Alex Hills lifts his head from a busy workload and shares his thoughts 

There have now been two meetings of the Gravesham and Dartford Cycling Forum since its formation and it is making good progress on achieving CPRE aims.
I landed the job of chairman by default, which I was not keen on initially, but it has enabled me to help promote the benefits of commuter cycling, access different cycling groups’ knowledge, help make cyclists’ voices heard and develop useful contacts.
There is now a move to form an umbrella group for cycling forums to tackle wider issues such as access to train travel.
I would urge all CPRE branches to engage with their local cycling forum if they have one. If there is no cycling forum, help set one up as it will be worth the effort.
The tram project is making progress – the battle is now on to find the funding.
Highways England (HE) has now dropped any pretence of the planned Lower Thames Crossing being anything other than a Green Belt grab for growth, with all mention of reducing congestion at Dartford being dropped.
Some improvements have been made to the design – but I think HE had always intended to do these anyway.
The LTC and Gravesham Borough Council (GBC) plans to build 2,000 houses in the Green Belt are very much linked due to the need for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).
My view is that the growth it is said will be created by the crossing should be included in the Highways England Strategic Environmental Assessment, but I would like further advice before pushing the point.
The council announced plans to consult on building 2,000 houses in the Green Belt to accommodate a lack of houses being built by developers and a massive increase in migration from abroad. Both points are totally wrong.
The umbrella action group Gravesham Rural Residents Group, of which CPRE is a member, has been partially reactivated. After a social media and letter-writing campaign by the group, the cabinet papers on the Green Belt review were withdrawn.
A long list of questions has been sent to the council… we await response.

Monday, December 4, 2017



Right Homes, Right Places?

This new consultation (Sep 14 – Nov 9) is looking at ways to deliver even more homes in the areas of highest pressure: in the introduction, Sajid Javid says: “Nobody likes indiscriminate, unplanned and unwelcome development. But most of us are willing to welcome new homes if they’re well-designed, built in the right places, and are planned with the co-operation of the local community. To win the support of local residents, we have to build homes people want to live alongside as well as in.”

He’s not wrong in saying that, but communities all across Kent are reeling in the face of already impossibly high housing targets. The new methodology for calculating housing need will see significant increases in those targets in every district across the county. Simply raising the targets for housing delivery is only http://findviagra.com going to force yet more land to be allocated; it will not direct the development that we need into the most sustainable locations.

It won’t help protect green space or the best and most versatile agricultural land. It won’t magically put right the fact that Kent is already severely water-stressed. And never forget that simply building more houses doesn’t force house prices down: the housebuilding industry has never followed the ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’ mantra of the supermarkets. We need a proper national spatial planning strategy, and planning authorities need support to deliver genuinely affordable housing that meets public needs first. Only then will communities feel able to welcome new homes.

See here for the proposed target increases in Kent and Medway: righthomes and see the consultation itself here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-right-homes-in-the-right-places-consultation-proposals

15 September 2017

Biddenden Tractor Fest 2017

…a big shout out to the organisers of this year’s Tractor Fest and Country Fair at Biddenden on Saturday and Sunday (August 19 and 20)! if you are planning on being there, be sure to come and say hello to the wonderful CPRE Kent team.

We’re recruiting!

Do you have a keen interest in Kent’s countryside and in helping to create a positive future where the homes that we need are built in the right places, and that we can all share and enjoy a beautiful, thriving countryside?

We have a vacancy for a Part Time Planner. Details can be found here: Planner Job Advert Planner Person Specification and Job Description Planner application form

CPRE Kent offers great working conditions, pension and holiday entitlement.

Remembering Alan Holmes

One of CPRE Kent’s most valued and committed members, Dr Alan Holmes, has passed away at the age of 89. He joined the charity in 1999 and served as Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer, Trustee, Vice President, South East Regional Treasurer and Chairman of the Canterbury Committee.

Alan was awarded an OBE for services to the food industry having run Leatherhead Food Research Association, a laboratory with an international reputation. He undertook many voluntary roles with organisations including Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Rotary, East Kent Council for Voluntary Services, East kent Hospitals Trust, the Canterbury Credit Union and the Westgate Hall Conservation Trust.

Alan lost his first wife Ann to cancer in 1975 and his second wife Sue, also to cancer, in 2013. He had three children, bob, Michael (who died in 1995), and Rosie and five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He died after a short illness.

We will remember Alan for his passion for the countryside, his chairing of so many meetings, his dog Buddy who accompanied him to all those meetings and his down-to-earth approach to planning and outspoken views on some of the major issues in Canterbury.



Radical rethink needed on Thames crossing solution

No-one who has crawled through traffic congestion at the Dartford crossings can doubt that there is a problem that needs fixing, and it needs fixing now. Nor do the residents who suffer from dangerously high levels of air pollution need reminding that this is a situation which has long been intolerable.

Our first thoughts on the location are here. But now that the dust is beginning to settle on the announcement of the likely location of the Thames crossing, there’s an opportunity to reflect on what this means for Kent and beyond.

A2 near Gravesend, Highways England

A2 near Gravesend, Highways England

As a solution to the problems suffered at Dartford, the tunnel east of Gravesend performs very poorly indeed. Highways England’s consultation acknowledged that, on opening, the tunnel would draw just 14% of the traffic from Dartford, which is a woefully poor improvement on a situation that is intolerable now and can only become worse in the time it will take a tunnel to be built.

We know from years of observations that building roads to remove congestion is counter-productive; new roads fill with traffic faster than the roads they are supposed to be relieving. CPRE’s report published only last month showed the most comprehensive evidence to date that building new roads is not the solution.

A huge proportion of the goods we trade with mainland Europe and beyond travel through the Channel Port of Dover and the Channel tunnel, and there are ambitious plans to grow traffic through the port of Dover. If the experience of past road building schemes has taught us anything at all, it is that before long Kent’s highways network, even with an additional tunnel across the Thames, will be back at or beyond capacity and we will have endured the environmental and social damage of building and using a tunnel for no long-term solution.

View from church tower at Chalk across Kert countryside by Glen

View from church tower at Chalk across Kert countryside by Glen

Before destroying communities, landscapes and designated sites, we want urgent attention to be given to developing a sustainable transport strategy. Fostering and encouraging the continued growth in traffic through Kent is not good for the country’s economic resilience. The unprecedented events of 2015, leading to over 30 days’ implementation of Operation Stack, should have taught us the lesson that focusing so much of the country’s imports and exports through the already constrained M2/M20 corridors cannot make economic sense.

We urge government to take a radical re-think of the focus on funneling so much traffic on roads through the South East. We need modal shift which will take freight off roads and on to rail, yet the plans for the new Thames crossing are totally silent on the possibility of addition non-road capacity.

Muggins Lane, connecting Shorne Ifield to Gravesend, Brian Fuller

Muggins Lane, connecting Shorne Ifield to Gravesend, Brian Fuller

April 24th 2017






New Kent Voice out now!

The spring/summer 2017 issue of Kent Voice is arriving on doormats this week.

cover photo for web

The magazine includes our latest article on the housing crisis – this time looking at the challenges and dilemmas facing a local planning authority. Other articles include the orchid treasures of Kent, a profile of our president, the artist graham Clarke, heritage, and wildlife and farming. Of course the regular campaigns, planning and district updates are also included.

There are some beautiful photos including this cover shot by Bjorn Sothmann and a few more, seen below. Thank you to all our supporters and members who contributed words or photos.

To read Kent Voice click on the magazine cover above or click here.

Elmley National Nature Reserve, Sheppy, Kent.

Cute lamb by Su-May Scords view, for FWAG article