Thursday, May 6, is election day in Kent. Seats on the county council and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells councils will all be contested, along with the role of Kent police and crime commissioner. CPRE Kent is well aware of the need to rejuvenate our economy in the wake of the mayhem caused by Covid-19, but we firmly believe the county’s natural and built environment should not be sacrificed in this push. CPRE has produced a manifesto calling on those elected to:
promote countryside solutions to the climate emergency
build a planning system that works for people, nature and the environment
deliver a comprehensive bus network for rural communities
develop an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers
The pandemic has shown how critical our countryside is to all of us. Next month’s elections will give politicians of all persuasions the opportunity to show they have witnessed that value are alert to the possibilities as well as the problems ahead.
Countryside-loving millennials could swing the general election in favour of the political party that has policies most likely to protect and enhance the countryside, according to CPRE.
For those who don’t know (and we suspect it’s more than many media outlets realise), millennials are widely defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. Or, to put it another way, those who are now in their 20s and 30s.
A poll commissioned by this charity reveals that:
• Overall, 60 per cent of people said they would be more likely to vote for a political party that wants to protect and enhance the countryside, including the Green Belt, and just 1 per cent said they would be less likely
• On the same question, 71 per cent of people aged 25-34 felt strongly about this
• Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of 35- to 44-year-olds and 57 per cent of 45- to 54-year-olds said policies relating to the countryside would affect their decision in the polling booth
• Regionally, Londoners feel particularly strongly about protecting and enhancing our green spaces, with 73 per cent saying this mattered to them when deciding who to vote for
The research was published on the same day as CPRE’s countryside manifesto, which includes 12 recommendations for how the next government can harness the potential of the countryside to promote a healthier economy and happier communities.
Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “This research turns long-held assumptions on their heads, with millennials and Londoners being most likely to vote with the countryside in mind.
“More and more young people are aware of the need to invest in their health and well-being, which is something that the countryside can deliver.
“And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Londoners, who are arguably most in need of time in nature, are more likely than any other region to vote with policies to protect green spaces in mind.
“But more than that, the survey results show overwhelmingly that protecting and enhancing the countryside is an issue that resonates with people of all ages and in all regions.
“It shows that countryside issues could be one of the deciding factors in determining which political party forms the next government.
“CPRE therefore urges all political parties to put measures to protect and enhance our countryside front and centre of their manifestos to ensure that our treasured landscapes will be available for now and future generations to come.”
Now the dust has settled from May’s local elections, we can reflect on some dramatic changes across the South East’s political landscape, even if Kent was not as affected as some of its neighbours. Such was the widespread shift in allegiances that the London Green Belt Council was moved to comment: “One of the lessons of [the] local elections is that voters place greater emphasis on protection of the environment than on almost any other issue. “According to research by the LGBC, the ruling groups in local authorities that allocated Green Belt countryside and green spaces for housing development in their Local Plans have been decisively punished by the electorate for doing so. “Analysis by the LGBC of [the] council elections shows that where authorities had proposed development on Green Belt land, the ruling party in each case had been voted out of office or its majority substantially reduced. “While in other parts of England, Brexit and other national issues may have determined the course of the recent elections, it is clear that in counties such as Surrey, Berkshire, Essex and Hertfordshire, which are within the London Metropolitan Green Belt (LMGB), the outcome of district and borough councils had been influenced more by communities’ anger at proposals to build housing estates on Green Belt land than by any other concern.” It was in Surrey, perhaps politically the bluest of counties, that the swing was most striking. The Conservatives, the ruling party in the majority of the county’s district and borough councils, lost 117 councillors (out of 1,269 losses in total), meaning Surrey accounted for almost 10 per cent of all Conservative losses in May’s local elections. Throughout England the Conservatives lost control of 41 councils, six of them in Surrey. According to the LGBC, the Conservative electoral performance was worst in the three Surrey districts where the Local Plans threatened Green Belt land for housing: Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley. In each of these areas, Conservatives lost control of the local councils to residents’ associations, local campaign groups and independent candidates opposed to the Local Plans and who were pledged to defend the Green Belt from development. In Guildford, the newly-formed Guildford and Villages group, which stood on a platform of defending the Green Belt, won 15 seats, and an existing local party, the Guildford Greenbelt Group, won an additional seat, giving them a total of four. This, together with the seats won by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, almost all taken from the Conservatives, resulted in a reduction in the number of Conservative councillors from 31 to nine. The defeated council leader admitted that concerns about building on the Green Belt had been crucial in determining the outcome. Hertfordshire saw the Conservatives lose control of three district councils – North Hertfordshire, St Albans and Welwyn & Hatfield – due to opposition to Local Plans proposing loss of Green Belt. In each of these districts there could have been even greater losses had the whole council been up for election. In Kent, although the Conservatives suffered some losses, there was nothing like the groundswell of change experienced in neighbouring counties. That might be something to think about. Richard Knox-Johnston, chairman of the London Green Belt Council and CPRE Kent vice-president, said: “The electorate punished the ruling party in boroughs and districts where they wanted to build housing estates on Green Belt countryside. “In the local elections, dozens of pro-Green Belt councillors were elected in Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, overturning once-impregnable Conservative majorities. “There is a powerful lesson here for all political parties in London and the Home Counties that tampering with the boundaries of the Green Belt will result in further losses of councils to independent and single-issue Green Belt campaign groups. “Proposals to remove land from the Green Belt in order to build on it are always extremely unpopular, as people rightly value and cherish their access to countryside and open spaces. “In the cases of Tandridge, Guildford and Waverley, it is clear that the Green Belt has become a major election issue, with profound consequences for the ruling party. “The elections prove that the environment is a ‘hot issue’ in many areas. Local Plans should protect the Green Belt and should concentrate new development on urban and brownfield sites in need of regeneration.”
All Kent’s local boroughs and districts, as well as Medway Council, will be holding elections on Thursday (May 2).
Local authorities control many of the decisions that we care passionately about at CPRE Kent. We depend on their decisions to keep our towns and villages vibrant, to ensure there are homes in which people can afford to live, and to make sure that services like public transport and waste collection and recycling are effective and efficient.
That is why it is so important to get out and vote, and to make your voice heard on Thursday! Whatever their political colour, the decisions made by your local councillors are important for your local community.
To find out in which local-council area you live, see here
To find out where your polling station is, see here
In the final run-up to the election, you can contact your local candidates and let them know the most important things to you and ask that they reflect this in their election promises.
One of the easiest ways to engage with your candidates is to send them an email or a letter. You should be able to find their email and postal addresses using the links above.
We have drafted an email/letter that you could send them – see here. Our manifesto, Stand Up For Our Local Countryside, can be found here if you would like to include it. And you can see our short video here
In line with the manifesto, we ask you to think about supporting the policies that support Kent’s countryside in the following ways:
Best use of land: respecting the constraints of designated landscapes, making use of brownfield sites and prioritising sustainable, public transport.
Thriving rural communities: getting the local council building more homes for social rent and prioritising local housing need over market demand.
Empowered communities: championing and upholding the voice of local people through the planning system
An enjoyable countryside: developing light-pollution policies and encouraging outreach and engagement programmes to provide equal access to the countryside.
Climate change and the countryside: setting a local authority climate change strategy and embedding climate change into all local policy areas.
You have the chance to make your voice heard on May 2nd: don’t miss it.