The fight for beauty

Here is my column from June’s Countryman magazine.

Two terrific books on the history of landscape conservation have just been published.

I will write about 22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside by Peter Waine and Oliver Hilliam in a future column. For those curious, the title owes a debt to an article in the Spectator which noted that CPRE was founded with 22 constituent bodies: “twenty-two – the length of a chain or cricket pitch, the unit of the square acre – is quite the most English of all numbers.”

The other book is The Fight for Beauty by Fiona Reynolds, who led in turn the Campaign for National Parks, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust. It is a book fizzing with ideas and passion, the product of deep experience. Continue reading ‘The fight for beauty’

Whose land is our land?

This is my May Countryman column.

The Land Question once dominated UK politics. “Who ordained that the few should have the land of Britain as a perquisite”, asked Lloyd George in 1909; “who made 10,000 people owners of the soil, and the rest of us trespassers in the land of our birth?” The right to roam makes it less likely that we will be trespassers on the land, but land ownership has not grown more equal since 1909.

Land ownership is a particular problem for anyone wanting to get into farming. Continue reading ‘Whose land is our land?’

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’

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