In defence of (some) telephone fundraising

Like many other charities, CPRE engages in telephone fundraising. Indeed, it is our most effective method of recruiting new members and asking existing members to upgrade their contributions. We cannot afford newspaper or billboard advertising; we do not do street fundraising (‘chugging’); and other face-to-face fundraising has, like direct mail, proved too expensive to be justifiable.

Without telephone fundraising, CPRE would find it much harder to recruit members and raise money. Consequently, we would be less able to achieve our charitable purpose of protecting and improving the countryside for the benefit of the nation.

But telephone fundraising is now under the spotlight, and not just because most people are sometimes irritated by phone calls from salespeople or their automated machines (if the firm that keeps ringing me about my accident at work is reading this: please stop calling, I haven’t had an accident at work). The criticisms of charity fundraising are much more serious, with allegations of charities preying on vulnerable people. A series of articles in the Daily Mail has uncovered fundraising practices that, in the words of the NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington, ‘have shocked not just the public, but also many people who work for charities’.

The Government now plans to legislate and it is consulting the sector on what sort of regulation is necessary to stamp out bad practice. This is as it should be. No one should condone the harassment of vulnerable people, and it is the more obscene if charities are engaging in such harassment.

But moral panic followed by a rush to legislate rarely leads to sound laws. Continue reading ‘In defence of (some) telephone fundraising’

Rural areas and the right to buy

Here is a slightly longer version of my column in the forthcoming issue of the Countryman.

I am usually uneasy about the argument that the countryside deserves special treatment, and not only because everyone says that their particular group or cause deserves special treatment. Much of what makes the countryside different is also what gives it its character – its beauty, its tranquillity and its remoteness. Remoteness should not mean the absence of services – post offices, shops, local hospitals and so on – but it does mean that the countryside cannot have all the benefits of the town. It other benefits that more than compensate.

But when it comes to housing, rural areas really do present a special case. If we want villages to be vibrant with a mix of ages and backgrounds, we need to build more homes that are affordable in perpetuity. Continue reading ‘Rural areas and the right to buy’

Getting Houses Built

I have been banging on for years about the naivety of assuming that releasing more greenfield land for housing will lead to a big increase in housing supply. The big house builders, who dominate the market to an unhealthy extent, have no great interest in significantly increasing supply. They will build the number of homes they want to build and which they think the market will support; but if they are allowed to build them in the countryside they will do so, rather than building them in towns.

Now CPRE’s housing researcher, Luke Burroughs, has written Getting Houses Built, a report that pretty well confirms this view, backed up by plenty of hard evidence. It strongly suggests that questions of land availability or housing targets, which dominate both debates on housing and the politics of planning, are side shows relative to the question of who is going to build the houses. Continue reading ‘Getting Houses Built’

What makes the countryside different?

Here is my column from the July issue of the Countryman, available by subscription or in all good newsagents.

“Sex and death! That’s what the countryside is really about.” So said Macdonald Hastings, broadcaster and editor, in the 1950s’ of Country Fair, ‘a monthly journal of the open air’.

His son, Sir Max Hastings, used to quote these words with relish as CPRE President, railing against the prettification of the countryside – townees settling in villages and complaining about the cockerel or the mud left by tractors; the district council’s sign by the village pond: ‘Warning. Risk of drowning.’ The countryside, Max was saying, is not the same as the town. We should treasure the differences.

Maintaining the physical difference between town and country was one of the things that brought CPRE into existence in 1926 – the idea that it should be obvious (as it is not in many countries) when one has left one and entered the other. The physical separation between town and country remains important, but what of other distinctions? Continue reading ‘What makes the countryside different?’

Time for city villages?

This is a slightly longer version of my column in June’s Countryman magazine.

The only way to protect the countryside is get our towns right. In particular, the rapid growth of London poses a threat to countryside across a wide area. London’s population fell from the war to the late 1980s, but is now back to its 1939 peak of 8.6 million, and rising.

Where are the extra people going to live? It is easy to say ‘on brownfield sites’, but the challenge is not just to find suitable land and develop it; it is to create places where people want to live. Anything that smacks of town cramming will backfire. We need to make cities good, green places in which to live.

One interesting idea now being touted by Labour peer Andrew Adonis is to rebuild some of London’s 3,500 council estates. In an IPPR pamphlet, City Villages: more homes, better communities he argues that we can replace tower blocks with traditional streets and, at the same time, achieve higher densities, a better social mix, more usable green space, better design and, all in all, better places. The idea is certainly worth exploring. Continue reading ‘Time for city villages?’

The Green Belt: good for cities

The Times has something of a campaign against the Green Belt. On Friday Ross Clarke’s Thunderer contained the usual arguments – London is choking, much of the Green Belt is poor quality land (‘grim monocultures of wheat and rapeseed’), green wedges would be better than the Green Belt (presumably because less effective). For the second time this month I succumbed to what Evelyn Waugh called ‘that senile itch to write to The Times’. My letter is in today’s paper and, in a slightly longer version, below.

Far from ‘strangling one of the world’s most economically vibrant cities’, the Green Belt around London supports its dynamism by concentrating wealth and investment within the city Continue reading ‘The Green Belt: good for cities’

We don’t need to destroy the Green Belt to solve the housing crisis

I have a letter on the Green Belt in the Times, a response to a piece by Tim Montgomerie criticising the Conservatives for their ‘appeasement of the nimby vote. A near-theological protection of green belt land explains why millions of young people can’t afford to buy a home. Planning restrictions remain the most impoverishing form of red tape in British public life.’

I admire Tim Montgomerie’s concern for people in need – he wrote a passionate article earlier this year about the humanitarian imperative to rescue economic migrants trying to get to Europe. But on UK housing, I wish he would move beyond the glib, unevidenced assumption that releasing more greenfield land must result in more housing. I wish, too, that he would try harder to understand why people – reasonable people – might object to new housing, and what might need to change to persuade them to accept it. Simply condemning them achieves nothing.

Here is the full version of my letter (the printed version is slightly shortened).

It is depressing that Tim Montgomerie peddles the line that we need to build on the Green Belt to resolve the housing crisis (It’s a myth that Tory modernisers won the day, May 14).

CPRE has established that there is enough suitable brownfield land for at least a million new homes, much of it in London and the South East. No one has contested these figures. The problem is not land, it is getting the houses built.

The major house builders have plenty of land with planning permission, but they dribble out supply. The small builders who once built two-thirds of private sector homes, now build less than a third and their market share is falling. And the state, which built over half the houses when we comfortably built over 200,000 homes every year, now builds very few. It spends on housing benefit, much of which goes to buy-to-let landlords, what it used to spend on building homes.

Meanwhile, for all the protestation of politicians that the Green Belt is safe, it is being it is being steadily eroded across England while brownfield sites go to waste. Tim Montgomerie should stop taking his lines from the developer-funded, anti-planning think-tanks. We need more houses, and some of them will inevitably go on greenfield sites. But we need to build with care. Simply dismissing those who care about the countryside as Nimbys is playground politics.

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