Christine Drury: final views from the chair

Food for thought… Christine Drury rarely took a breather from considering the issues of the day

At next month’s AGM, Christine Drury’s five-year term as CPRE Kent chair comes to an end. Here she offers some thoughts and reflections after what has been, even by this organisation’s standards, an extraordinarily busy time

I have lived in Kent now for 35 years; I can almost say I have put down roots here.
Certainly since I left Unilever in 2003 I have been able to get involved in my local community, campaigning and a variety of trusteeships.
In my last 10 years at Unilever I was a part of its strategy to be an environmental leader as well as a brand marketing company, setting up the Marine Stewardship Council with WWF to certify fisheries that could be called sustainable. Unilever needed 200 tonnes of sustainably-caught fish for its Birds Eye fish fingers and fillets.
We also evolved the refrigeration systems for Unilever’s two million ice-cream cabinets in a joint venture with Greenpeace.
Not everyone in the company was happy to be working with “enemy NGOs [Non-governmental Organisations]” but having been in the business for a long time I had some trust as an “internal activist”.
I always preferred the route of getting unlikely partners in the room together and we did a lot under the umbrella of Green Alliance – the organisation that former CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers now heads up. It is a small world.
Switching from global to local sustainability when I left Unilever seemed perfectly logical, and I have probably always been a campaigner.
When Charles Oliver, then regional chair, asked if I would help CPRE in succeeding him, planning was entirely new to me.
The 2004 Planning Act had just introduced regional plans so the role of regional chair for the South East was interesting and new. Regional plans only lasted until 2009.
I was also a member of my Ashford district committee. Hilary Moorby was a very good teacher, but we did all have to keep up!
By then I was also a parish councillor and learning about planning in CPRE has always been a great help in that role.
I had also started campaigning in Ashford for a solution to the borough’s overnight lorry-parking problems, which I and others recognised as much a social and employment issue for the drivers as an environmental issue for communities.
While chair of the CPRE South East region I asked Gary Thomas if he would be a vice-chair.
He agreed provided I reciprocated, which in a nutshell was how I became a trustee and then vice-chair of CPRE Kent.
Richard Knox-Johnston succeeded Gary as CPRE Kent chairman and I took over from Richard at the November 2013 AGM.
Richard became regional chairman in addition to continuing to help CPRE Kent as a vice-president.
His was a hard act to follow. The huge public inquiry at Maidstone into the Kent International Gateway proposals had just been won, while events and campaigning were very active under the name Protect Kent.
This was a slight dilemma for me as I was also a trustee of national CPRE and I suggested we evolve to become CPRE Protect Kent.
Board meetings were still dominated by the enormous task of realising the Ivor Read legacy – a long and complicated story on which I acknowledge the depth and diligence of the work by Hilary Moorby and Alan Holmes as well as Gary.
Richard had almost completed it during his term as chairman, meaning I have been able to focus on managing the funds as if the legacy was an endowment.
The legacy has of course been transformational: it means we can have a depth of planning expertise in the branch to be able to work with districts to comment on most Local Plans and the seriously large or challenging planning applications.
We can also engage and campaign on many other issues across Kent. The Farthingloe application for more than 600 homes in the AONB has been with me throughout my time as chair.
When I took over, we were looking for ways to challenge a bad planning decision by Dover District Council.
By September 2016 the decision was quashed at the Court of Appeal, and in December last year that was confirmed in the Supreme Court.  The road to victory was by no means smooth, potholed with legal uncertainty and quite large financial risk to the charity at each stage.
We would not have succeeded without the challenge and clear thinking of the Board of Trustees and of course our legal team.
It was a salutary reminder of the risk and costs of going to court that shortly after winning at the Supreme Court we lost a case at Maidstone after a long campaign to promote the countryside over development at junction 8.
I have been asked what has changed in the five years. Some campaigns are much longer than a chair’s term; Farthingloe is just one example of that.
Change is also permanent. We all adapt to staff changes as people move on to develop their careers, and to volunteers changing as they move away – Cally Ware, for example, is now much appreciated by CPRE Shropshire.
Others we lose to mortality. I was very lucky to have Alan Holmes and Hilary Moorby for most of my time as chair.
Some retire and are difficult to replace: Margaret Micklewright’s outings have been as much part of who we are as CPRE as the planning battles.
We need to be able to reinvent what we do and how we organise ourselves.
A lot of change has also occurred at CPRE nationally. Tom Fyans has honed our evidence-based campaigning skills to make us more effective.
Alliances and partnerships are becoming even more important. They are unavoidable with such a wide range of challenges to the countryside, and they make our arguments stronger.
Five years ago, national office may have seemed less important to Kent –now we work as One CPRE and try to think of ourselves as the network rather than branches and national office. We remain independent charities, which is why good governance is vital.
I am often asked by people who know CPRE but who are not members why CPRE is so obsessed with Green Belt.
Even though we can point regularly to development incursions into Green Belts, it is instructive to listen to people in village communities who appreciate the countryside and green spaces around them but who are and feel immensely vulnerable to their countryside next door being swallowed up.
With no protection and councils frequently losing the power to decide on applications if they fail the five-year housing land supply test, Green Belts are a very important planning tool to promote and enhance communities that are not against development but do want it to be respectful and relevant to their community.
Housing is needed, but there is still a long way to go to get the right housing in the right places with the right infrastructure, not least fibre broadband! I think I will be campaigning for a while yet.
Thank you for the patience and support everyone has given me during my time as chair, including a special thank-you to Hilary Newport, and to all the staff with whom I have worked since November 2013 – those who have retired or moved on and, of course, David, Paul, Julie and Vicky.
I will hand over to the next chairman at the AGM on November 9th when my five years is up.
CPRE is a great team. I will still be around but may be doing a little more travelling with Jolyon, gardening with the robins and enjoying adventures with my grandchildren. My term as a national trustee continues until June 2019.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Join us for great day out in London

Travel on the intriguing underground postal railway

Always keen on a good day out, we’re organising a trip for CPRE Kent members (and their friends)  to London this summer.
First stop is the Charles Dickens Museum in Holborn, followed by lunch at the superb Lady Ottoline pub in swish Bloomsbury (worth a trip in itself, many will say).
After that, we will be visiting the fascinating Postal Museum, a highlight of which is a journey on the old underground postal railway.
All this, including return coach travel between London and Kent (with pick-ups at Charing and Wrotham), for just £60 per person.
There are only a few places remaining on this fantastic trip – running on Friday, June 1 – so if you fancy joining like-minded people and having a lot of fun, phone the office on 01233 714540.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 

Pegwell Bay’s own defender of the realm, Eileen Randall

Eileen and Oggle the goose, Christmas 1980

Eileen proudly presents the yucca tree in her garden, August 2011

Eileen tackles a pumpkin, January 2010

This is an extended version of an article by David Mairs, CPRE Kent campaigns and PR manager, that appeared in the most recent edition of Kent Voice  

In a previous life as chairman of CPRE Thanet, I was supported by a small but stoic group of volunteers who battled all weathers and circumstances to help keep the district group alive.
One of them was Eileen Randall, who also helped create the Pegwell & District Association, a member of CPRE Kent. This piece pays tribute to the kind of volunteer so important to what we do.  

On first mention, it might seem an irony that the founder of an organisation devoted to the protection of arguably Thanet’s finest stretch of coastline hails from somewhere about as inland in this country as you can get.
But then again, when you learn a little of the family background, everything falls into place.
Eileen Randall was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and educated in Bedford, but it was her father’s love of the sea that brought this woman who would play a such a role in the protection of Pegwell Bay to east Kent.
“My father was an old sailor in the Merchant Navy and he had always wanted to live by the sea,” said Eileen.
“We were living in Bedford during the war, but afterwards my father immediately looked for a property here – and one in Ramsgate took his fancy.”
So for William Pangbourne and wife Emily life was about to take a sharp turn as they moved to the golden isle (or Thanet, as it is also known) in 1946.
Buying a guest house, Allandale, in North Avenue, the couple utilised the catering skills they had developed during their time running a restaurant in St Albans.
Living the dream certainly, but the lure of nearby Pegwell was too strong and the family’s association with the bay was set in train when the property that was ultimately to evolve into Eileen’s Driftwood home came on the market.
“The coastal areas that had been closed to the public during wartime were opened up again,” said Eileen, now 88. “Land was being released by the Army and being put up for auction through Daltons Weekly.
“The building we’re in now was built on the ruined foundations of the old coastguard station – a long, narrow building divided into little rooms with a passage down one side. The blockhouse next door was the armoury, with 2ft-thick walls with slits that you could just about peep out of. There were rolls and rolls of barbed wire and deep slit trenches – it took about a year to clear it all.”
Eileen sold teas and home-made cakes on the lawn at the front, and with help from her father managed to save enough for the deposit for the bungalow to be built. She slept in an old army pillbox as all the work was going on.
“We called it Driftwood, which was appropriate because we used to get wood washed up at the bottom of the cliff.”
Work began on the bungalow in 1960, but other aspects of Eileen’s life had also been moving apace: in December 1951 at St George’s Church in Ramsgate she married Derek, who had just been demobbed from the Army, specifically the Household Cavalry based at Windsor.
It was all hands to the pump, meanwhile, as the family established themselves in Thanet, Derek taking on a range of jobs locally before travelling up and down to Luton as he re-engaged with his former work at Vauxhall Motors. Like most ex-servicemen, Derek had difficulty settling to a civilian life.
With Eileen and Derek’s sons Christopher, born in 1953, and Julian (1954) on the scene, everything seemed rosy in the garden, but there were dark clouds on the horizon.
It was in the late 1980s that plans were revealed for a railway line cutting through Pegwell Bay and the West Cliff foreshore to Ramsgate harbour.
Linked with the expansion of the harbour and the construction of a new port and breakwater, the line would cross fields from a junction with the present line and break through the cliffs in a cutting where The Pegwell Bay Hotel still looks out over its gardens to the shore.
Paradise was in danger of being lost.
“People were up in arms about it,” said Eileen, a woman who was never going to engage simply in some wild waving of limbs, physical or metaphorical. The fight was on.
The first move was the creation in April 1987 of the Pegwell & District Association after about a hundred folk had gathered on the lawns of Driftwood to discuss a response to the scheme.
Eileen was the principal driver, aided and abetted more than ably by Jacqui Williams and Mike Houghton.
The plans for the railway line were beaten off as Pegwell residents flexed their muscles as well as their powers to have fun… for this was no collection of hatchet-faced moaners with a taste only for gloom and doom.
Instead, as the association looked to raise both funds and awareness, Driftwood hosted regular garden parties and meetings, while there were outings to more distant parts and annual summer fairs throughout the ’90s… it there was an upside to the battle forced upon the bay and its denizens, it was the strengthening of social ties between a range of people brought together in a common cause.
It is, sadly, a fact of life in our part of the world that the savouring of any victory for the environment is only ever short-lived – there will invariably be another threat rearing its ugly head before very long.
And sure enough, a new road was now proposed, to be built in a similar cutting through the cove next to the hotel.
Another fight, another victory, this time a government inspector throwing out the plans at public inquiry, encouragingly on the grounds of nature conservation.
Encouragingly… and remarkably, as it was the discovery of a rare algae on the cliffs that won the day. Needing the sea splashing on it to ensure its survival, a new road would have jeopardised that process and of course the future of this little-known species.
Again, though, there was soon another plan to be fought, this time for a road tunnel through fields opposite Chilton and emerging on the lower promenade.
The association objected due to the intrusion into the fields and the imposition of traffic on the undercliff, but, as developers and their friends in local government know, if they keep hammering away long enough ultimately the wishes of local people and the value of the environment they seek to protect can be overcome.
Another public inquiry was held, with the result that a publicly-funded tunnel and road to the harbour was to be built.
It was, in a way, a defeat, but the general feeling among residents was that the newly-accepted scheme represented the best of a bad job… certainly Pegwell had escaped the horrors of a road or railway line wrecking its fragile environment.
“It’s absolutely a very special place,” said Eileen. “The wonderful wildlife that’s here and the fact that we have one of the few unspoilt cliff-faces in Thanet… it gives great pleasure to many people.
“The thought of a railway or a road along the bottom of the cliff was dreadful. It wasn’t ideal itself, but we preferred the idea of a tunnel and in the end had to go along with that.
“We weren’t against the port, but we were against developing the bay.”
Today Eileen’s health doesn’t allow her to be involved with the association, but son Chris has inherited her love of Pegwell and an awareness of the fact that its beauty can’t be taken for granted.
“There’s a constant threat,” he said. “There are so many people wanting to do something to the place, wanting to develop it.
“I remember two of our neighbours getting very ill fighting the threat of development – one of them died as a result of the stress of it all.”
So many giving so much for Pegwell, while, aside from the public inquiries and battles with well-heeled developers, there were also any number of minor, unpublicised tussles to be had, as Chris recounts:
“I can recall Mum getting up and racing down the lane every time she heard someone dumping rubbish to give them a mouthful. ‘You can pick that up and take it back where it came from!’ she would tell them.
“She was so well known locally – I remember well the councillor who said ‘You don’t upset Mrs Randall!’.”
The Pegwell association still fights the corner of this wonderful place, but Chris can not help but remark upon a change in both demographic and attitude.
“There are threats to this area as we speak, but also we’ve got so many people from outside buying properties and renting them out to others who might only be here for a short time and are not interested in protecting what we have.”
If the future is, as ever, unclear, one thing is certain: Pegwell needs its district association. Without Eileen, of course, there would be no association… and Pegwell itself would in all probability be a very different, and sorrier, place.
We might also reflect that, without her efforts to foil the misguided efforts  of our local authorities, the Viking ship Hugin would almost certainly not be in its traditional place on Pegwell cliff-top.
That’s a story for another time, but for now we’ll simply pay tribute to a special person who fought for a special place.
Eileen lost Derek, whose role in putting together and distributing the association newsletter should not go without mention, in February 2015 at the age of 88, but her love and passion for Pegwell remains undimmed.
Driftwood has had some important visitors over the years. In September 1940, Winston Churchill arrived with military chiefs to inspect the Pegwell battery as part of his tour of south-east England’s coastal defences.
What this country’s arguably most famous Prime Minister could not have known was that a defensive HQ of a very different kind would one day be established nearby.
It was of course from here that Eileen and Derek Randall led the fight against the ravages of developers who seemingly knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Those who love Pegwell owe Eileen Randall a lot.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Meet the chairman of our revived Thanet committee

David Morrish in Spain (not Thanet!) with his wife Pat

CPRE Kent sprang back to life in Thanet last autumn with the formation of a district committee, bringing to an end far too lengthy a period without a formal CPRE presence on the isle, where we have some 60 members.
At a meeting in October that attracted a healthy turnout of 16 people, David Morrish was elected chairman, and it’s a pleasure to introduce him here to a wider audience.
David was born and bred in Birmingham and had his epiphany in 1959 when despatched for a three-day Scouts expedition through the ‘Blue Remembered’ Shropshire Hills, where began his love for the tranquility of the English countryside.
At 18, he went north to study civil engineering at Leeds University, explore the dales and fells and learn the finer arts of ‘coarse rugby’. His final-year interests were traffic and transport and architecture.
After graduating, David returned to Birmingham to work for Freeman Fox as a fledgling transport planner on the West Midlands Transport Study and in new-town planning.
The latter opened the door to training as a civil engineer with Telford New Town Development Corporation in glorious Shropshire, where he met Pat, a Shropshire lass and the love of his life. The couple were married at the delightful Thomas Telford church of St Michael’s, Madeley, Telford, in 1968.
In the 1970s David and Pat moved west to Staffordshire, where David worked for local authorities on highways traffic and transport schemes. Meanwhile, the advent of three sons saw David rejoin the Scouts as a leader, with expeditions and hikes into the Peak District and Wales… and a compulsory back-to-basics camp each year in the Shropshire Hills!
His professional career ended with a proud 10 years as chief technical officer for Stafford Borough Council, where, as well as highways, drainage and other municipal engineering, David was involved in all aspects of planning and carried the can as accidental custodian of Stafford’s High House (an Elizabethan town house built in 1594 – the largest timber-framed town house in England (way bigger than any in Stratford-on-Avon!) – the ancient cottage of angler Sir Izaak Walton and Stafford’s Norman castle.
Early retirement gave David the opportunity for a variety of challenging assignments, including motorway network management at the Highways Agency, strategic public transport planning at Birmingham City Council and devising ‘recovery plans’ for the transport department at an inner London authority.
In 2015, with two of David and Pat’s sons and their families out of the UK, the couple moved 250 miles “down Watling Street” to Kent to be close to their youngest son and his family… they chose Thanet, they say, because it has the best coastline in the South East and a relaxed lifestyle.
Shortly after arriving, David became embroiled in protests against the Draft Local Plan; looking through the groups involved in consultative planning, he realised CPRE Kent offered the most cogent support and professional advice and made the decision to join and get involved.
With a group of new friends, it was decided Thanet needed its own CPRE committee to share information and offer support.
Last word to David: “I feel very honoured to have been elected as District chair and I will do my best to serve and lead us forward.
“In the three months since being elected as District chairman it has been a pleasure to have the opportunity of meeting fellow CPRE members from across Kent and to be made to feel so welcome.”

Monday, 19 March, 2018