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