Energy efficiency: how the countryside is losing out

Today CPRE publishes a new report, Warm and Green, about the need to improve the efficiency of buildings in rural England – and the potential consequences if we continue to focus on the supply energy while doing too little to limit demand. Here is my article about the report, from the forthcoming issue of the Countryman.

Houses in the country tend to be older than those in towns and more expensive to heat. But despite the fact that they face higher than average energy costs, rural communities get little of the money available for energy efficiency. Rural areas are home to almost a fifth of England’s population, but receive less than 1p for every pound the Government invests in energy efficiency.

The result is too many people who cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. But there are also serious environmental consequences. If Britain is to meet the Climate Change Act’s targets for carbon reduction, which all the main parties support, we must use much less energy. It will not be enough to make urban houses more efficient if those in the countryside continue to leach heat.

A new report from CPRE, Warm and Green, shows how we can do better. Continue reading ‘Energy efficiency: how the countryside is losing out’

In defence of the Green Belt: two recent newpaper letters

Attacks on the Green Belt are nothing new, but they do appear to be growing. The attacks are not coming, on the whole, from national politicians: there is an election soon, and politicians know how popular the Green Belt is. Indeed, Eric Pickles has just reiterated that ‘the essential characteristics of green belts are their openness and their permanence’.

The fact that we continue to lose alarming areas of Green Belt locally contradicts the rhetoric. I heard countless examples of Green Belt loss at a packed public meeting last night in Luton, organised by CPRE Bedfordshire, CPRE Hertfordshire and the Chiltern Society, and I know there are examples across the country (CPRE will be publishing a major report on this tomorrow). But I suppose it is some sort of consolation to hear national politicians queuing up to say how much they love the Green Belt, and that it will be safe with them next time.

But the attacks on Green Belt policy from the commentariat and developer-funded think-tanks are relentless. A recent edition of Radio 4’s Costing the Earth had in the anti-Green Belt camp not only the full-time anti-Green Belt polemicist, Paul Cheshire, but also Sir Simon Jenkins, former Chair of the National Trust, and Danny Dorling, who has argued persuasively against the simplistic view that simply building more houses will solve the housing crisis. (It was notable that Tom Heap, the presenter, could not find any ‘ordinary people’ to blame the Green Belt for their high house prices and long commutes.)

In the last week CPRE has had letters in defence of the Green Belt in the Observer and Independent. My letter in the Observer was in response to an excellent critique of the housing crisis by Rowan Moore. Paul Miner’s letter in the Independent responded to a piece by Ian Birrell which skilfully summarised almost every misconception about the Green Belt peddled by Paul Cheshire and the anti-planning, developer-funded think-tanks.

The letters are below. In the summer, CPRE will be publishing a report on anti-Green Belt myths, working title, Pestilential Nonsense Unmasked. Continue reading ‘In defence of the Green Belt: two recent newpaper letters’

Housing and intergenerational fairness

The Intergenerational Foundation has been running an excellent series of blogs on the housing crisis, with interesting postings from people such as Danny Dorling (whose book I wrote about in an earlier blog), Shelter’s Toby Lloyd, and Legal and General’s chief executive Nigel Wilson (who writes about the need to provide housing for older people). In my blog I get cross about politicians crying crocodile tears about housing affordability. Continue reading ‘Housing and intergenerational fairness’

Election hustings: can we get a greener Britain?

One of the myths of British politics is that people do not vote on green issues. In fact, seats are won or lost on the environment, albeit generally the local environment. Local politicians know the intensity of feeling about litter, street cleaning and the state of public parks. In national elections, housing is a big issue, particularly new housing in the countryside when more sustainable alternatives are available.

Continue reading ‘Election hustings: can we get a greener Britain?’

Can we build beautiful roads? And should we build them at all?

A record of John Hayes’s recent speech to CPRE and the Campaign for Better Transport on ‘making roads beautiful’ is now on Storify. Here is my column on the speech, which will appear in the next issue of the Countryman.

Politicians do not usually talk about beauty. It is considered effete. But John Hayes, the Roads Minister, has no such qualms. In a previous job he waged war on wind turbines on the grounds that they are “simply ugly”. And he believes that “a civilisation is largely defined by what it builds,” a thought that should worry us.

So I was delighted when John Hayes told CPRE he wanted to give a speech on how to build beautiful roads. It is not every year – not every decade – that a politician asks us to host a speech on beauty. But beautiful roads? Continue reading ‘Can we build beautiful roads? And should we build them at all?’

‘The countryside’ – and the places we care about

Here is my column from the latest issue of the Countryman, available from all good newsagents.

When we talk of treasuring ‘the countryside’, we are generally thinking of particular places – places that have a significance in our lives, or special literary or historical associations.  Places, said G.M. Trevelyan, “have an interest or a beauty of association, as well as an absolute or aesthetic beauty”. He was referring to St. John’s College, Oxford, a home of the Royalist Court in the Civil War – “not mere stone and mortar, tastefully compiled, but an appropriate and mournful witness between those who see it now and those by whom it was once seen”. (From Clio, A Muse p. 26.)

A 70 home development would arouse opposition in any hamlet of 28 houses, but when that hamlet is Lower Bockhampton, Thomas Hardy’s Mellstock, the opposition wins international support. Adding 800 homes to any attractive Somerset village would be controversial – but when that village is T. Eliot’s East Coker (“In my beginning is my end…”) the fight has extra resonance. And anyone who has not had a sense of beauty bypass would want to protect the Slad Valley in the Cotswolds, but its association with Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie makes it extra special.

A wonderful new book, Literature and Landscape in East Devon by Peter Naysmith celebrates places and landscapes loved and immortalised by Sir Walter Raleigh, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Beatrix Potter, John Betjeman and others (the link with Ottery St. Catchpole in the Harry Potter books is speculative but persuasive). Continue reading ‘‘The countryside’ – and the places we care about’

Catkins are out, committees are in: the Oxford Junior Dictionary

A stellar group of authors, including CPRE’s President, Sir Andrew Motion, have written a letter to the Oxford University Press protesting about the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s axing of words relating to the natural world. It has replaced them with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.

This is an old story, but a good cause. There is much more on the issue on Laurence Rose’s blog, http://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/. Here is the Countryman column I wrote about it in January 2009. And just to be fair to the OUP, it gets it right with the wonderful Save Pudding Wood! in the Biff and Chip series.

I have just caught up with the furore that broke out shortly before Christmas over the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.  This is an old story, but bear with me.  The book itself was published in 2007 and provoked no public excitement until a seven year old schoolboy in County Down sat down to do his homework and could not find definitions for the words ‘moss’ and ‘fern’.

His mother then compared six editions of the dictionary since the 1970s and found that words relating to religion, history and nature had been stripped out and replaced by newer words to do with the internet and celebrity.

The loss of sin and the devil caused some controversy, but it is probably nature and countryside words that have suffered most.

So, out go acorn, adder, ash, beech, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bray, bridle, brook, bullock, buttercup…  Continue reading ‘Catkins are out, committees are in: the Oxford Junior Dictionary’



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