The party conference season: reasons to be gloomy

Housing was a big issue on the Labour conference fringe last week, as it will be at the other party conferences. Quite rightly, every meeting on the issue called for more building. Even CPRE’s event was held jointly with the Federation of Master Builders.

I am pro-house building, but not at any price, and it was disappointing to hear fringe speakers and audiences uncritically parrot the anti-planning line pumped out in recent years by the Treasury and the free market think-tanks. Continue reading ‘The party conference season: reasons to be gloomy’

On NIMBYs and the ‘battle for the countryside’

I have just seen that a piece I wrote last month for Show House, the house builders’ magazine, has been published. Here it is.

The programme for the Whathouse? ‘battle for the countryside debate’, in which CPRE’s Paul Miner is taking part, asks: ‘Will the UK’s NIMBY culture ever change? How can the new homes industry win over its harshest critics?’

Well, this critic might be more easily won over if the industry seemed less obsessed with battling NIMBYs. I do not deny that NIMBYs exist. There will always be people, perhaps even some in the house building industry, prepared to fight for the places they care about.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. Fight to save a local school or hospital and you are a community hero. So why should someone trying to save their local countryside be branded a selfish NIMBY? And looking at some of the eyesores that have won planning permission over the years – not all housing developments by any means – anyone can wish that NIMBYs were sometimes more successful.

Nevertheless, ‘not in my backyard’ implies that something bad is acceptable as long as it is in someone else’s someone else’s backyard. That is not a defensible stance, and certainly not one that is attractive to CPRE, an organisation set up by architects and planners, among others, and committed as much to promoting good quality development as to stopping things being built. Continue reading ‘On NIMBYs and the ‘battle for the countryside’’

Housing and the countryside: Hilary Benn’s CPRE lecture

I am looking forward to Hilary Benn’s CPRE Lecture tomorrow. He follows a distinguished line of previous speakers, including David Miliband, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas and, more recently, Greg Clark, Chris Huhne (when he was Energy and Climate Secretary) and Patrick McLoughlin


Hilary Benn made himself a CPRE hero when, as Environment Secretary, he approved the South Downs National Park, including the Western Weald. I am sure his speech tomorrow will be thoughtful and that he will grapple with the question of how England can get the housing we need without unnecessary loss of countryside. I do not expect that CPRE will agree with everything he says, but there are three areas we particularly hope he will cover.  


First, any future Labour government should seek to reinvigorate the urban renaissance. Continue reading ‘Housing and the countryside: Hilary Benn’s CPRE lecture’

Book of the month: Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery

My column in this month’s Countryman considers the devastating exposé of the global food system by Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. In Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat there is a particularly grim chapter on overfishing in Peru, where the sea is being emptied of anchovies to make fishmeal for chickens, pigs and fish farmed across the world. Continue reading ‘Book of the month: Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery’

In defence of campaigning charities

Last week CPRE’s head of planning, Matt Thomson, wrote an excellent blog for the Conservative Home website. This rebutted an anti-CPRE polemic by a researcher for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). Matt’s blog is well worth reading, but I was particularly struck by the comments from readers. As usual with Conservative Home articles on planning and development, most were supportive of CPRE’s perspective, but a significant minority questioned CPRE’s status as a charity.
‘What is CPREs mandate? Who funds them? Do they have charitable status? How much are their directors paid? Are they just a pressure group?… What is “charitable” about being a pressure group?… Pressure and lobbying groups should not be charities.’ And so on.
Such questioning of charities, particularly charities that criticise the Government, is becoming more and more common. Continue reading ‘In defence of campaigning charities’

#WasteOfSpace: the picture so far

Stonebridge Park

Stonebridge Park

CPRE has had a great response to our #WasteOfSpace campaign. In just three weeks we have received more than 100 nominations of potential brownfield sites, as well as support from public figures and politicians. The online map showing the submissions has had close to 3,000 views so far.The campaign is far from over, but its early success shows how much safeguarding our countryside and improving our towns matters to people. Continue reading ‘#WasteOfSpace: the picture so far’

Framing the housing debate

Politicians, journalists and housing campaigners have an easy frame for the debate on building new homes: we have a housing crisis (true); therefore we need to shake-up the planning system, take on the NIMBYs, and release much more greenfield and Green Belt housing for housing (a big, unexamined leap in logic). Let me give a few examples from the countless I could use. Continue reading ‘Framing the housing debate’


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