In praise of (a) rural development: affordable housing in Dartmoor

Earlier today, I was delighted to open a development of seven affordable homes in Holne, Dartmoor. The development has been controversial locally, and I generally sympathise with anyone concerned by the impact new buildings have on the places they love. There is almost always something lost when a development happens, particularly in such a beautiful part of the countryside.

But much can be also gained if it is done with care. Buildings can enhance a place’s interest and beauty, as well as detract from it. And villages need new life. A ‘living’ village has a mix of ages and incomes. Something dies when a village becomes the preserve of retirees and second home owners. Continue reading ‘In praise of (a) rural development: affordable housing in Dartmoor’

Change in the countryside: reasons to be cheerful

Here is my column from the next issue of the Countryman, making the point that however much we bemoan change, some things in the countryside really have got better. I’d love to have views and further suggestions, either in blog comments or tweets to @cpre or @shaunspiers1.

Next year sees the sixtieth anniversary of W. G. Hoskins’s great work, The Making of the English Landscape. It concludes with a wonderful jeremiad on how every change to the English landscape since the late nineteenth century has ‘uglified it or destroyed its meaning, or both…. Barbaric England of the scientists, the military men, and the politicians: let us turn away and contemplate the past before all is lost to the vandals.’

I am sure many of us share both Hoskins’s rage at the ‘uglification’ of the countryside and his nostalgia for a better past.

However, while CPRE exists largely to stop bad things happening, it is also part of our charitable purpose to make things better. And some things really have got better in the countryside in recent years. Here is my baker’s dozen, in no particular order. Continue reading ‘Change in the countryside: reasons to be cheerful’

The great housing disaster: time to get radical?

Danny Dorling’s All that is Solid: the great housing disaster is a great attack on inequality, seen through the prism of housing. But although the analysis is left-wing, it provides little ammunition for today’s post-Thatcher Labour Party. I imagine that many of Dorling’s arguments (minus the rhetoric, which sometimes undermines them) would be more immediately attractive to Churchill or Macmillan, were they alive today, than to Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

CPRE has members from across the political spectrum, from the Green Party to UKIP. But I think there are seven propositions from Dorling’s book with which most would broadly agree, or which support the argument that solving Britain’s housing crisis will take more than just building lots more houses. Continue reading ‘The great housing disaster: time to get radical?’

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’


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