Government’s 25-year plan for our environment… what is the CPRE view?

Will Kent’s wild places be better protected as a result of the government’s 25-year plan? This is Westbere in the Stour valley (pic Richard Brooks)

The publication on Thursday last week (January 11) of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan met – as perhaps is the case with most things emanating from our political leaders – a mixed response.
It was difficult to argue against the principles it embraced and most commentators have broadly welcomed the plan, although it has been criticised for a lack of detail and commitment to concrete action.
To make up your own mind, you can read the 125-page document (or at least as much as you want to read!) here.
Just to give you an idea of the government’s stated intention, in the meantime, Prime Minister Theresa May says in the plan’s forward:
“Our natural environment is our most precious inheritance. The United Kingdom is blessed with a wonderful variety of natural landscapes and habitats and our 25 Year Environment Plan sets out our comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing them in England for the next generation.
“Its goals are simple: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country for us all. We have already taken huge strides to improve environmental protections, from banning microbeads which harm our marine life to improving the quality of the air we breathe to improving standards of animal welfare. This plan sets out the further action we will take.
“By using our land more sustainably and creating new habitats for wildlife, including by planting more trees, we can arrest the decline in native species and improve our biodiversity. By tackling the scourge of waste plastic we can make our oceans cleaner and healthier. Connecting more people with the environment will promote greater well-being. And by making the most of emerging technologies, we can build a cleaner, greener country and reap the economic rewards of the clean growth revolution.”
And Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, adds: “It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. We have made significant progress but there is much more to be done. The 25 Year Environment Plan that we have published today outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.”
So what does CPRE make of it?
Belinda Gordon, our head of government and rural affairs, said: “The introduction of a 25-year Environment Plan is a fantastic commitment to long-term investment in the health, protection and enhancement of our countryside.
“We are delighted to see the Government taking measures to improve our National Parks, Green Belts and wider landscapes.
“However, despite the Government’s best intentions, we are concerned that the plan does not adequately address the growing development pressures on England’s countryside.
“England’s land is a finite resource – it is vital that we ensure we have a planning system that ensures the best use of land, while protecting our landscape and the wider natural environment.
“We look forward to working with the Government to make sure our planning system delivers what our communities and environment need.”
Belinda gives greater detail in her blog A vision for change here, in which she talks of “a sense of disappointment about lack of detail in some areas while some anticipated announcements were not in the final plan”.
We would be keen to know your views, so please feel free to get in touch with us via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, January 15, 2018

CPRE Kent team stands up for Brabourne Lees at public inquiry

Brabourne Lees sits at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB

These are lively days indeed for CPRE Kent.
No sooner has the dust settled from our appearance in the High Court, where we gave evidence in the successful battle for Pond Farm, Newington, and our Supreme Court victory in saving Farthingloe Valley from destruction by developers than we have a team involved in a public inquiry.
This time we are giving evidence to a planning inspector hearing the appeal by Gladman Developments Ltd against Ashford Borough Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for 125 homes at Brabourne Lees, a village at the foot of the Kent Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The local authority is defending its decision and the hearing, at the Civic Centre in Ashford, is expected to conclude by the end of this week (Friday, January 19).
And – after that – we’re giving evidence in another public inquiry, this time into a proposed development at Charing. It’s scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 13, and expected to last six days.
All the best to our team… fighting, as ever, for Kent’s countryside and quality of life.

Monday, January 15, 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

Tunbridge Wells housing numbers too high

We have responded to the latest consultation on Tunbridge Wells local plan challenging the huge housing numbers planned which would cause severe environmental damage, loss of countryside, green space and ancient woodland.

CPRE Kent’s Tunbridge Wells committee has raised many concerns in its comments on the Issues and Options consultation.

We dispute the need to provide 650 to 700 houses per year. Given that employment growth in the borough in the 21 years from 1991 to 2013 was zero, the jobs forecasts which project an ever-rising volume of employment seem unduly optimistic and if the increase in jobs is not forthcoming, this volume of housing development could turn the borough into a dormitory for businesses elsewhere. The population and household formation forecasts on which the housing need assessment is based may also be too high.

View from Horsmonden Church by James Stringer

Committee chairman Elizabeth Aikenhead said: “Most importantly, housing development on this scale together with its infrastructure clearly cannot be accommodated in a borough with so many environmental constraints without causing serious damage to the environment.”

It is also contrary to the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework. CPRE Kent does accept that there will have to be new development within the borough but this should continue to be at no more than the rate previously required under the Core Strategy. Even that amount of development will be very difficult to provide without serious environmental damage.

Lamberhurst in Spring by Jonathan Buckwell

Taking the proposed Strategic Options one by one, Continue reading

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

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

The end of the road?

CPRE Kent  has long argued that increased road building in fact leads to increased traffic, does not reduce journey times and does not bring the promised economic growth to areas. Plus it can destroy beautiful areas of countryside.

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Traffic by Jon Coller

New research published by CPRE today (March 20th) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised, while devastating the environment [1].

No wonder we are so concerned at the wisdom of potentially spending £3billion on a new Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend which would have a terrible economic impact and not solve the problem of congestion at the Dartford crossings.

The research, the largest ever independent review of completed road schemes in England, arrives as Highways England starts consulting on which road schemes will receive funding, set to triple to £3 billion a year by 2020 [2].

Drawing on the research, CPRE’s report The end of the road? directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’ [3]; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’ [4]. The report shows how road building over the past two decades has repeatedly failed to live up to similar aims. Continue reading

Fascinating outings for our members in 2016

We have a great programme of outings planned for our members. Organised by volunteer Margaret Micklewright, they include fascinating visits to the COOK’S kitchen at Sittingbourne where they make frozen food for distribution across Kent and beyond. (Thursday 19 May).

Cooks at COOK

Cooks at COOK

On Thursday 18th June an outing is planned to Lullingstone Castle and its World Garden of Plants, plus a visit to a lavender farm in the area.

 

Lullingstone Castle aerial view

Lullingstone Castle aerial view

Plus on 14th June (to be confirmed) members have the chance to visit the Sainsbury’s Distribution Centre at Waltham Abbey.

On Wednesday July 27th there is an outing to Povender House near Faversham. This 14th century house is owned by Princess Olga Romanoff, daughter of Prince Andrew Romanoff, the eldest nephew of Czar Nicholas II. The visit includes a tour and tea and cakes.

Then on Thursday September 15th there will be a visit to Denbies Vineyard and then on to Painshill Gardens.

Painshill Gardens

Painshill Gardens

Denbies Wine Estate

Denbies Wine Estate

In the autumn on 1st October members have the chance to visit the Sainsbury’s Distribution Centre at Waltham Abbey.

For a full programme and booking form see the attached below:

Diary outings 2016 revised May 2016

May 3rd 2016.

Why we are fighting to save the countryside at Farthingloe

You may have noticed some recent media coverage (BBC South East and Dover Express) where Dover MP Charlie Elphicke claimed CPRE Kent was against all development and was wrong to challenge the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Farthingloe (which he mistakenly claimed was brownfield land). Here CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury sets the record straight and explains why this campaign is so important for Kent:

We are absolutely not against development in Dover. Our planning expert, Brian Lloyd, spent a huge amount of time working on the Dover Local plan to help make it a good plan. We want Dover to  be successful as much as anyone. We also want the Western Heights to be conserved and restored: they are just as important as Dover Castle and both are incredibly important parts of our national heritage.

Dover Farthingloe from Mount Road Vic 030

What we have to challenge is when the wrong things are being proposed. The Farthingloe site was specifically rejected as an unsuitable site in the local plan process, and the statutory agencies Natural England and the AONB unit, as well as non-statutory bodies, the National Trust and ourselves, thought likewise. But it has fallen to CPRE to take the fight on. It is a pity Charlie Elphicke takes a challenge against one thing that is wrong as a challenge to everything. He is incorrect about it being a brownfield site. A key principle of all good construction projects is that civil engineers make as light an impact as possible on the ground they only need temporarily, and restore it afterwards. That was the commitment at Farthingloe, as it was at  many other sites along the subsequent Channel Tunnel Rail Link construction line through Kent. There will always be those who try to claim brownfield status. It is unfortunate and misleading that Charlie has taken up this line .

On the lorry park, that was a necessary campaigning phase in Dover Port taking greater responsibility for the wider impacts across Kent of the huge volumes of lorry traffic passing through Dover:  Their latest plans do make more provision for trucks needing to park up, though this will no doubt be an ongoing issue.

We do  acknowledge progress and we continue to work hard to get the right things to happen.  But we will continue to challenge when we see the wrong planning decisions being made. We will see in December whether the courts agree. We did not take this action lightly but if CPRE does not take a stand to save our countryside who will?

Dover is a really important part of Kent – we will continue to campaign to look after it as we try to do for all of Kent. We have fantastic countryside and a great county which we need to protect for future generations.

November 17th 2015

Gift membership – perfect for Christmas

The gift of the countryside – you could not put a price on it; but you can help us protect it by buying a gift membership of CPRE Kent for friends or family this Christmas.

Forest snow scene by Chris Barnes

Forest snow scene by Chris Barnes

Not only will you and your loved one be supporting our campaigns to protect the beauty and tranquillity of the wonderful Kent countryside, but gift membership offers a lot more besides:

Gift membership 001 (003)

  • Kent Voice magazine – twice a year
  • Countryside Voice magazine – three times a year
  • Two for one or half price entry to homes and gardens across Kent and England for the whole household
  • Social programme of outings
  • Expert planning support
  • 10% discount at Cotswald Outdoors for the whole household
  • A special bonus for gift membership – wildflower seeds, a cute welly boot keyring and a wheelie bin pencil sharpener sent with the welcome pack
  • CPRE pin badge

Continue reading

Autumn Winter 2015 Kent Voice

The Autumn Winter edition of Kent Voice should be arriving on your doorstep any time now.

cover photo jpeg for website

It contains lots of interesting articles on subjects ranging from the Magna Carta to grazing management of some of our most beautiful countryside as well as all the latest campaigns news. Find out about good news fro the Romney Marsh, good news on Waterside Park, and our latest efforts to save the AONB at Farthingloe.

There is also information on the AGM coming up on 20th November and events and outings coming up over the next year.

To read click on the photo.