Brexit: a personal view

I wrote yesterday in defence of CPRE’s neutrality on the EU referendum. What follows is my personal take on some of the issues. For a host of reasons, many of them unrelated to the environment or the countryside, I am passionately in favour of Britain remaining within the EU. But I acknowledge that others within CPRE are equally strongly in favour of leaving. There are good arguments on both sides.

As CPRE collectively is not taking a view, I am not speaking for CPRE. But I hope it will be useful to set out some of the issues as I see them, and I hope that other CPRE members will pitch in with their own comments. Continue reading ‘Brexit: a personal view’

CPRE’s position on Brexit

Jonathon Porritt, the distinguished but dyspeptic environmentalist, has attacked CPRE for not taking sides on Britain’s membership of the EU. Jonathon likes a scrap, particularly with his own side, but I do not accept his criticism of CPRE’s position. Continue reading ‘CPRE’s position on Brexit’

Who funds the anti-planning think-tanks?

In recent letters to the charity magazine Third Sector and the Observer I have been critical of how some think-tanks report their funding. I asked who funds them and whose interests they sustain.

This is an important question for CPRE because for the last ten years three think-tanks, Policy Exchange, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Adam Smith Institute have waged a campaign to weaken the planning system and, in particular, Green Belt protection. There have been umpteen pamphlets, newspaper articles, seminars, and private lunches and dinners, often with ministers.

The campaign has been all too successful and we are living with the results. But we do not know who pays for it. All three organisations are secretive about their funding. The website rates think-tanks from A to E according to the transparency of their reporting. Policy Exchange (see p. 11) and the IEA are rated D, the Adam Smith Institute is rated E.

My assumption is that the campaign is funded by individuals and businesses who stand to make serious money out of a weakened planning system, and who gain credibility by hiding behind supposedly disinterested think-tanks. In my Observer letter I wrote: “I would not believe a word these think-tanks say until they say who is paying them to say it.”

CPRE has, of course, fought back – see, for instance, Policy-based Evidence Making: the Policy Exchange’s war against planning from 2006 or last year’s Green Belt myth-buster. And we also have generous funders (see below).

But there is a big difference between funding a conservation organisations like CPRE and giving money to the think-tanks I was criticising. Continue reading ‘Who funds the anti-planning think-tanks?’

On my ‘completely inaccurate picture of labour on British farms’: a response to the NFU

The NFU President has responded to my Countryman column about working conditions on UK farms – reproduced here. In a letter in this month’s magazine, Meurig Raymond says that I paint “a completely inaccurate picture of labour on British farms.

“Over 90% of the jobs in the sector are paid above National Minimum Wage – so we are not a low-paying industry. We are also the only UK industry with its own government agency – the GLA [Gangmasters Licencing Authority] – which works with farmers to protect workers and prevent exploitation…. Agriculture is actually leading the way and should be held up as an example of best practice to other sectors of UK industry where labour use is not monitored.”

I am grateful to Meurig Raymond for responding. I am a strong supporter of UK farming will continue to buy British food and, wherever possible, local food. I never buy imported meat and I am boringly obsessive about seasonality.

But it is hard to square Meurig Raymond’s defence with Felicity Lawrence’s reports on British farmers using what amounts to slave labour (the problems in the food processing sector are even worse). A few bad apples? Then let’s hear the condemnation. The NFU’s opposition to the Agricultural Wages Board also undermines its claim to uphold ‘best value’.

My response to the NFU follows. It will appear in the next issue of the Countryman. Continue reading ‘On my ‘completely inaccurate picture of labour on British farms’: a response to the NFU’

Save Shorne Wood

Pudding Wood 1

Could they? Would they?

I have written before about the wonderful OUP early reader book, Save Pudding Wood.

It should be on every environmentalist’s shelf. The Woodland Trust should buy copies for all its members, or all the very young ones. Save Pudding Wood tells a story of community action saving a much-loved wood. Now ancient woodland and a country park near my home in Rochester is threatened by a new road. Could they? Would they?..

Save Shorne Wood! And, of course, the other woodland, countryside and villages which will be damaged or destroyed by the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.

Continue reading ‘Save Shorne Wood’

More planning reform: what’s going on?

The Government is making changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The consultation runs until 22 February, and the House of Commons CLG Select Committee is holding an inquiry – see here for my oral evidence.

CPRE’s planning experts will be blogging about various aspects of the consultation in the coming weeks. Here is an overview.

  1. Some of it is good.

The consultation’s strong emphasis on building more homes on brownfield land is very welcome. Continue reading ‘More planning reform: what’s going on?’

The East Thames Crossing

I have written here before about the growing threat to the English (and Welsh) countryside of new roads. Now the issue has arisen close to home, with plans for a new river crossing east of Gravesend. I have a letter in today’s Medway Messenger, written as a Rochester resident – CPRE Kent’s much more measured, official line on this proposed act of vandalism is here. I suspect I will be writing more about this issue in the coming weeks. My letter is below.

I loved the picture of the proposed new Thames crossing in last week’s paper. How clean it looks! The picture shows mostly undisturbed countryside and its caption reads: ‘how the new bored tunnel will look in Kent’. But no road is ever as innocuous as the picture suggests. In reality, the new road will come with lots of noise, light pollution, air pollution and general ugliness. It will cut through beautiful countryside, destroy ancient woodland and blight the wonderful Shorne Wood Country Park.

The pity is that all this damage, at huge expense, will do little to relieve congestion in the longer term. Continue reading ‘The East Thames Crossing’

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