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.
The government must invest in the ‘countryside next door’ to ensure we all have access to quality green space near to where we live as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, according to CPRE, the countryside charity, as it launches its regeneration manifesto today. Regenerate our countryside, regenerate ourselves: A manifesto for a resilient countryside after coronavirus urges the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect and invest in the countryside, support rural communities and break down the barriers too many face in accessing the health and well-being benefits of time in green spaces. Critically, our Green Belts, the countryside next door to 30 million people, and other countryside around large towns and cities that don’t currently have Green Belts should see funding significantly increased to make sure they are enhanced and include greener farming techniques that could make our food supply more resilient to future shocks. The manifesto was launched at a virtual debate this morning (Wednesday, July 1) with leading countryside and political voices, including Rhiane Fatinikun, founder of Black Girls Hike; Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee; Mike Amesbury MP, shadow minister for housing and planning; and Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party. Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Just as National Parks were integral to post-war reconstruction in the late 1940s, so too should everyday landscapes including local green spaces, the Green Belt and the countryside next door become a central part of the government’s response to coronavirus recovery. “Public support for protecting and enhancing these spaces is impossible for ministers to ignore – now more than ever we need more quality green spaces available to everyone and to make sure young people form lifelong connections with nature that can help us bounce back from the pandemic and build resilience in the longer term. “Today, we are calling on the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the countryside and access to green spaces at the heart of the recovery. “That means putting the Green Belt ahead of developers’ profit margins, guaranteeing children’s education includes quality time in nature and breaking down the barriers to the countryside for groups previously excluded. “But we also need to make sure rural communities don’t bear the brunt of the economic fallout by supporting the rural economy and investing in rural social housing. Only then can the government claim to be learning the lessons of lockdown and building back better.” The manifesto outlines a vision for a resilient countryside with thriving rural communities that is open to everyone, whether visiting, living or working there. Key recommendations of the manifesto include:
Regenerate our green spaces: the government must support local councils and communities to deliver up-to-date Local Plans, adopt a truly ‘brownfield first’ policy and ensure that our Green Belts, our countryside next door, is enhanced through greater funding;
Regenerate ourselves: the government must guarantee every child a night in nature as recommended in the Glover landscape review, and increase funding for the many tried-and-tested community outreach projects that have already enabled greater engagement with the countryside for marginalised groups
Regenerate our rural economies: the government must establish a rural economy task force working across government to develop a comprehensive strategy for supporting the rural economy and invest in rural social housing to provide genuinely affordable homes for our key workers.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to shine a light on the deep inequalities that exist in who is able to make use of green space or countryside near to where they live. Natural England’s figures show that children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups are 20 per cent less likely than white children to visit the countryside. That’s why CPRE is campaigning for every child to be guaranteed a night in nature in a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as recommended in last year’s Landscapes Review by Julian Glover OBE.
CPRE Kent is calling on all political parties to embrace the countryside charity’s vision for a countryside that is thriving and accessible and makes a significant contribution to reaching net-zero carbon. We want to see sustainable rural communities, supported by investment from business and government, where people’s voices are heard in decision-making and local needs are met.
Our priorities are: 1. Tackling the climate emergency – the next government must commit to ambitious measures to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 through implementing changes to farming practices, the balance of our energy supply and by energy efficiency in homes. 2. A countryside for all of us – our countryside must be a source of well-being for everyone. The next government must improve access to green spaces, especially for children and those who do not have access, as well as helping create a litter-free future with an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme for cans and bottles. 3. Planning for communities – the planning system is one of local democracy’s most powerful and effective tools. The government must support a well-resourced planning system that empowers communities and promotes development that responds to their needs. Green Belt should be protected and a strict ‘brownfield first’ policy committed to. 4. Creating thriving rural communities – the next government should commit to provide genuinely affordable homes and infrastructure, both digital and actual, such as rural transport that connects communities to employment opportunities and vital public services.
You can read the CPRE leaflet Our countryside: a manifesto for the next government here:
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.