Former Kent chair Christine Drury honoured with CPRE Lifetime Achievement Award at national conference

Christine Drury, left, receives her award from Su Sayer

Christine Drury, who CPRE Kent members will know through her time as branch chairman, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s national conference in Birmingham.
Christine stood down from her five-year Kent role at last year’s AGM, held at Lenham in November, while her time on the national trustee board came to an end this year. She is now a CPRE national vice-president.
The Lifetime Achievement Award “recognises some truly exceptional individuals who have helped CPRE in extraordinary ways over long periods of time and made an indelible mark on their colleagues and friends who have nominated them”.
Christine was one of three people handed the award by national chair Su Sayer, the others being Leslie Ashworth from CPRE Northumberland and Ben Nash from CPRE Herefordshire.
Warm congratulations to all from CPRE Kent!

  • To read more about Christine’s achievements, please click here

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wildwood tour makes for a whole lot of furry fun for members, supporters and friends

The CPRE Kent party gather around the harvest mice enclosure (all pics Julie Davies)
This dormouse offered a warm welcome
What is there not to love about a harvest mouse?

The delights of Wildwood Discovery Park were savoured by an excited group of CPRE Kent members, supporters and friends on an exclusive tour of this very special place.
Julie Davies, a member of the CPRE Kent planning team, led a party of 14 on Saturday, June 8, as they learnt about the conservation of water voles, harvest mice and dormice before meeting rescued red foxes as they were fed by their keeper.
The afternoon allowed the group to wander around the park as they chose, getting to see fantastic animals such as bears, wolves and badgers. And some, we can be assured, took full advantage of the opportunity to eat at the wonderful café!
Our next event is Christmas dinner at The George in Molash on Friday, November 29. Get out your diaries and mark the date right now!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The legal eagle has landed… meet John Wotton, the new chairman of CPRE Kent

John Wotton: clear vision for CPRE Kent

John Wotton, the new chairman of CPRE Kent, talks to David Mairs about how he thinks this organisation should develop and shares (some of) his background as a lawyer in the City

“Where I am now is that I’m not a lawyer any longer!”
John Wotton, new chairman of CPRE Kent, was cheerily setting the record straight during a discussion in which he set out his ambitions for this organisation.
It would be remiss to introduce John without referring to his life in the legal profession, during which he worked for more than 30 years as a City lawyer with an international corporate law firm.
Suffice to say, a stellar career included such roles as president of the Law Society of England & Wales and chairman of the Law Society’s EU Committee and has been winding down with the chairing of Competition and Markets Authority inquiries for the past five years.
Now “spreading his wings” and focusing on a range of very different interests that include, of course, his role at CPRE Kent, he is strengthening his involvement with charities, notably in the world of wildlife conservation, and in education.
Born in Hounslow and brought up in Sunbury-on-Thames, he was able to call this county home when he moved to Marden in 1983 just as he and wife Linde were starting a family. ‘Children’ Ruth, Tom and Sophie are now all in their 30s.
“We moved into what one of the rich farmers in Marden referred to as a gentry house – we had the smaller, older half of it. It was tucked away, set well back from the main road, but had a relatively small garden.
“All around were orchards and hop gardens, half of which have now been built on. I was told there were once 80 working oasts in Marden parish and there were still five when we moved there. Now there’s not a hop grown in Marden.”
Despite the changes and so much loss of what many regard as the county’s heritage, it was in Marden that John got “a feel for Kent”. He moved to nearby Cranbrook in 1992.
Although fresh in his chairman’s role, John is of course no stranger to CPRE Kent, having chaired the Historic Buildings Committee for the past three years. Initially a joint operation between the Kent Archaeological Society and CPRE Kent, it is now run solely by the latter.
How did that particular interest develop?
“I’ve always been attracted to older buildings. A university friend – he’s still a good friend – went straight from his architecture degree to conservation and showed us around his patch in Suffolk. I found that interesting.
“Thinking about it, my interest may even date back to university. Jesus College Cambridge, where I studied, retains the medieval chapel and cloisters of the nunnery formerly on the site, now surrounded by fine buildings from every century since the foundation of the college in 1496. I fell in love with the place the moment I first set eyes on it.”
Historic buildings do not necessarily come to mind as falling under the CPRE remit – indeed Kent is the only branch to have such a committee – so how does John view their place in the wider scheme of things?
“Historic buildings can be overlooked in the work of CPRE branches. A lot of what we do is protection of the countryside, but the built environment is hugely important. The character of most settlements depends on historic architecture and protecting the fabric of old buildings and historic monuments is terribly important.
“The National Planning Policy Framework also protects the setting of heritage assets, so there’s often a very good ground for opposing or seeking to change an undesirable planning application, even where the historic structures themselves are unharmed. Protecting them in this way is highly congruent with the aims of CPRE, to protect the countryside.”
John acknowledges the challenge of following in the footsteps of predecessor Christine Drury, who worked tirelessly to make CPRE Kent such an effective organisation during her five-year term. What changes might we expect under his chairmanship?
“My main concern is my comparative lack of detailed planning knowledge. Even though I was a lawyer, my practice didn’t involve planning law.
“Externally, what concerns me most is our limited resource in combating undesirable applications and providing critical review. Local councils are subject to huge and conflicting pressures where planning is concerned and are hugely overstretched, which combine to increase the risk of bad developments being approved.
“I think we have to work very hard to bring in more people with the time and skills to intervene effectively.
“Even though we have some endowment, from a very generous benefactor, which provides us some financial security, we don’t have a big annual budget.
“We need more professional planners and more volunteers with the time and skills to intervene effectively in the planning process.
“I would like to instil a giving culture among our supporter base, one in which more of our members and other supporters make regular donations and leave legacies to CPRE Kent. It’s what other charities do and we don’t need to be reticent about it.
“We have to explain why one large windfall some years ago doesn’t enable us to do everything we need to do. But, of course, we can only expect people to support us financially if they see the value of what we do and believe their contribution will make a difference.”
Even bearing in mind the relative health of the Kent branch, it is no secret that CPRE needs to attract more members. There is no silver bullet, but how does the new man at the helm see us tackling things?
“Many other membership organisations are in the same position and unfortunately people generally seem less willing to get involved. I’m hoping that the work being done nationally on the CPRE brand and image will help us at branch level. But for the sterling efforts of the Charing team and volunteers in promoting CPRE Kent at events around the county, we’d be a good deal worse off than we are.
“Successful campaigns are key. A high-profile campaign is what attracts people and makes them think we’re worth supporting.
“We sometimes get new people at meetings but often don’t see them again, so we have to ask if we’re projecting the right message. The existing supporter base have signed up to and accept what we are, but most of us also see why we might need to attract a wider audience.”
That national work should help CPRE clarify what it’s about and a rumoured greater focus on green issues chimes with the new Kent chairman.
“CPRE as a conservation body should be concerned with protection of biodiversity in the countryside, as well as cultural, aesthetic and social considerations.
“We understand the environmental impact of planning, as well as the importance of green spaces and biodiversity to the health and well-being of people.”
John’s agreement to take the chairman’s seat can only be welcomed, but is there a danger of CPRE being viewed more widely as an organisation catering largely for high-end achievers?
“The greater danger is more, I think, that we are seen as a crowd of people with substantial houses and substantial gardens telling people that they must live in high-density housing to protect the countryside.
“We can only tackle that by explaining how the countryside and access to it are of benefit to people’s well-being.”
Which brings us to the issue of how much CPRE can influence housing policy.
“Housebuilding doesn’t make housing affordable,” says John. “I don’t see how we can meet the need for rural affordable housing without significant funding and other incentives being provided for social housing – genuinely affordable housing that will remain so, in the places where the need is greatest.
“Housing ceases to be a problem when there’s an adequate supply of low-cost housing for people without substantial means, and that includes housing in the private rental market. When I was young, it was very difficult to get anywhere to rent.
“I do believe we need a mixed housing market, with three primary types – social housing, private rental and home ownership – but government is only promoting one of them.”
Difficult times, unquestionably, but for John Wotton retirement does not entail the surrender of all other responsibilities.
Trustee of the Cranbrook School Trust and Great Dixter, council member of Fauna & Flora International and, of course, front man for our own cherished organisation… before you even consider the maintenance of his garden, orchard and mini-arboretum, opened regularly for charity, it is apparent the demands on his time will be rich and varied.
You can but sympathise when he says that, after three years chairing the Historic Buildings Committee, he wants to step aside from that particular task “but didn’t manage it in the meeting we just held”.
So there you are, dear reader: a new challenge could be yours. Who know where you might end up?

Monday, May 13, 2019

A city champion steps aside

Time to take off the boots and have a break… Barrie with grandson Jed and son Jonathan after tackling The Three Peaks in North Yorkshire

He’s been a leading light of Canterbury CPRE for a decade and he’s as enthusiastic for the cause as ever, but Barrie Gore has decided it’s time to vacate the chairman’s seat    

 

The year, 1966. England won the World Cup. Barrie Gore moved to Kent…
Whether you regard the two events as of similarly momentous significance depends perhaps on personal perspective, but the decision of the former chairman of Canterbury CPRE to up sticks from the capital was, it is fair to say, not without impact.
The word ‘former’ is the one that catches your eye as Barrie has become almost a fixture in the cathedral-city role over the previous 10 years or so (“I haven’t counted them”).
“I’ve had enough,” he says. “I shall continue to support CPRE Kent – I’m as enthusiastic as ever – but although I’m in good health a few issues are starting to take their toll.”
He finally called it a day at the beginning of April after what was in fact two stints, having manfully stepped back into the breach after the death of Alan Holmes in 2017.
The initial engagement followed a spell helping out the Canterbury committee with CPRE’s Night Blight campaign.
That took him to London, where he was “impressed” by the organisation.
“Even so, I didn’t particularly volunteer for the Canterbury job,” he says. “But the chair, Katrina Brown, a farmer’s wife who was very good on agriculture, was pregnant and had other priorities! Against my better judgment, I was persuaded to take on the job.”

We need to campaign more
The last remark was (thankfully) said with a smile and it is apparent that Barrie’s respect for the organisation runs deep, even if he believes it might change a little the way it goes about things.
“I think CPRE is a wonderful organisation,” he says. “But we need to campaign more and run demonstrations. I wanted to have a funeral march down New Dover Road – at the head would be a coffin containing the soul of Canterbury.
“Surely CPRE did campaign in the early days, for example for the creation of National Parks? We do in a way now, by writing to the press and commenting on planning, policies and Local Plans, but we could sometimes be more demonstrative.”
The love of Canterbury is something else that shines bright, but he is of course not a genuine local. Rather, the cathedral city is Barrie’s adopted home.
“I was born a cockney, the genuine article, but moved to Rainham in 1966 and Canterbury in 1973.”
A solicitor, he ran “a small family practice” in Boughton that he eventually sold after starting up in Canterbury. “I had some wonderful staff working with me,” he says.
With wife Valerie, he has five grown-up children (Jonathan, Felicity, Elaine, David and Sophie) and “lots of grandchildren”, and it is perhaps the fact that east Kent has provided the home for his loved ones that has helped fire his passion for the area.
It is a passion, though, that is tinged grey with regret at many of the changes that have occurred during his time there, as well as obvious frustration.
“I have a theory – Kent has traditionally always been the point of invasion, and people have become conditioned to being steamrollered over. Kent people don’t jump up and down – if the things that have happened to Canterbury had happened to London, there would have been an uproar.
“I think people across the county have lost faith in having their views entertained and acted upon. Now it’s all about going to court and it shouldn’t be like that – you now have to be a wealthy person to be able to challenge decisions you might not like. That was not always the case.”
The shift in the planning environment, perceived or otherwise, is not of course restricted to Canterbury, but it is nevertheless enlightening to hear the views of someone who has spent years on the campaign frontline largely in one particular place. What has been the greatest change during his tenure?
“The main difference is the individual feeling that whatever people say they can’t make a difference – that’s the greatest sadness.
“The consultation process, so lionised by government, brings in people far too late as, in reality, the actual decision has often already been made. We’ve seen problems with our draft Local Plan, which in my view, and that of many others, didn’t accurately summarise comments from the public – the process was geared in a way that indicated it had more support than it actually did.
“Democracy has on the face of it stepped backwards, despite us theoretically being told more. People are shovelled away. Having only three minutes to speak before the planning committee on a major application is a case in point.
“A classic example in Canterbury is at Wincheap, where the city council wants to build a car park right up to the River Stour, ruining a historic setting and adversely affecting the adjoining countryside. That car park could be put anywhere on Wincheap with a far less destructive outcome.
“Another is the way the local authority follows the government line on housing, whereas it should be saying publicly: ‘Sorry, Canterbury can’t cope with this sort of thing’. I have asked the council to do this, but they have not done so – nor have they told us what they discuss on their visits to central government.”
More broadly, Barrie is clear where the blame lies for what he sees as a fading democracy: “The local government reorganisation in 1974 – I knew it was a bad thing as soon as it happened. Things weren’t overtly political before, but now it’s all black and white, wholly polarised.
“It’s a terrible situation here – Canterbury is losing a lot of its character and the status of its World Heritage Site could be lost. There is a management plan, but it isn’t being monitored, which it should be at least twice a year. The WHS management committee was apparently without a chair for a period and has not met as often as it should in recent years.
“We, and others, have written letters to UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] about the dangers to the WHS – I don’t like the idea, but we’ve tried everything else.”
Has the onslaught ever been so bad?
“Not since I’ve lived in Canterbury, anyway.”
What is to be done?
“I ask myself the same question. I don’t know.
“There should be pressure on central government to bring back the central grant system. Canterbury is a small district with a lot of heritage liabilities, such as the city wall and many other lovely buildings.
“I think they’re failing to protect the assets they have and are spending money on new projects when they are perhaps financially unable to protect and look after them as well. They wanted to ‘improve’ St George’s Place at a cost of £80,000 and have spent more than £10 million on a shopping precinct that has no local businesses and appears focused solely on attracting large companies from outside.
“Another theoretical consultation – they pulled down a perfectly good cinema [the building that became The Marlowe Theatre] at considerable expense for a replacement that does not cater as well as it should for the needs of the disabled and has an unfortunate effect on the conservation area and its historic buildings.
“As for its design and the illumination, whoever thought of having Piccadilly Circus in front of the cathedral?”

Alternative ways forward
The disenchantment of Barrie Gore with much of what he sees around him cannot be denied and he is not, it is fair to say, enamoured with the condition of local democracy, at least in this part of the world.
There is a train of thought that says we should highlight only the positive, avoiding any hint of naysaying, but if that is not a true reflection of matters then aren’t we in danger of entering the realms of, at best, complacency or, at worst, dishonesty? Either way, we do need to be able to offer alternative ways forward. Over to Barrie…
“I’ve often thought amenity bodies should have a voting place on planning authorities.
“The most disappointing thing is all these protective amenity organisations only have advisory status – they have no statutory teeth, so councils can ignore them.
“Organisations such as ours have far more rural experience than many of the councillors elected to represent rural communities.”
It would be wrong to give an impression of Barrie the doom-monger. Rather, he is a jolly fellow who rejoices in the finer things in life, notably, in our context, the scuffed gem of Canterbury, while he is warm in his praise of those he thinks deserving of it.
“I think CPRE national office does a really good job with some wonderful and very sincere people. It is short-staffed, which is a shame and means they can’t perhaps deal with all the nitty-gritty in detail – the NPPF was a wonderful example of that.”
It is no secret that CPRE is looking to move with the times in a way it has arguably not done before, a process with which Barrie is fully on board.
“We should be getting more out of our members – and getting more members. We need to hit people at the inquiry stage: ‘Right, you’ve seen our mettle – cough up!’.
“Let’s get into primary schools and talk about heritage and countryside – children are very responsive and would take leaflets home to their parents. We have to put idealism to one side, and sometimes the economy too, and get on with protecting what’s important.
“Our role is to defend and protect the countryside, but we should include heritage in that objective. We’ve done a lot of work here and I should say that the Canterbury Society was also very good in that department.
“The problem is, people don’t know what we stand for. We do so much good – if it wasn’t for us, groups like the RSPB wouldn’t have the land to protect.”
The positivity horse is now in full gallop, so, in wishing Barrie the very best in his retirement from the Canterbury CPRE chair and thanking him for his efforts, let’s ride it to the end…
“We’ve raised the profile of CPRE here – our Canterbury committee has a wealth of experience and knowledge, and has been very supportive to me personally and to the aims of CPRE Kent. As a result, I believe we have the respect of the council. I do think we have made a difference.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

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