In the thick of it

Twice in the last month the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has dismissed thorough (and expensive) CPRE research, without any serious engagement with it.

On brownfield development, the Government has a good record, particularly compared with the Coalition government, which dumped the emphasis on brownfield housing first introduced by John Gummer in 1990. Brownfield land registers are part of the Housing and Planning Bill now going through Parliament, and we are promised a £1 billion fund for brownfield remediation.

CPRE does not take a crude ‘all brownfield good, all greenfield bad’ approach to planning, but we are pleased with the new emphasis and the fact that Ministers’ took note of our campaigns and reports  Indeed, Brandon Lewis, the Housing and Planning Minister, has often quoted CPRE’s statement that there is enough suitable brownfield land in England to build at least a million new homes.

That figure comes from detailed research conducted for us by the University of the West of England (UWE). Continue reading ‘In the thick of it’

Set up to fail

Today CPRE published a major report, Set up to fail: why housing targets based on flawed numbers threaten our countryside. I guess most people’s minds are elsewhere following the terrible events in Paris, but I hope the report will get some attention in the coming weeks. Based on a thorough analysis of 54 local plans adopted in the last two years, it shows conclusively that the current system is not working either for those in housing need or for communities trying to shape developments in their area. Continue reading ‘Set up to fail’

Big issues for the countryside

This is my column from November’s edition of The Countryman.

What are the big issues for the countryside in the next couple of years? Here is a very partial list. Inevitably it omits many important things – bovine TB; energy generation (I wish we would also think about how to save energy); flooding and ‘extreme weather events’ linked to climate change etc. But here is my top five.

Continue reading ‘Big issues for the countryside’

Rural communities and the right to buy

The sale of housing association homes to their tenants has been in the news. The Government is very proud of its deal with the National Housing Federation (NHF); Labour is very cross. But the impact on rural communities has received too little attention.  Continue reading ‘Rural communities and the right to buy’

Another developer-led panel to advise the Government on planning

CPRE has a good relationship with the housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis. He takes a practical approach and he listens. Of course he wants to see more houses built – so does CPRE – but he recognises that achieving this aim requires more than a weakened planning system and high housing targets. That is a welcome change from the approach of some recent planning ministers from both main parties.

It is therefore disappointing that last week Brandon Lewis appointed an expert panel consisting largely of developers and Conservative Party loyalists to advise him on streamlining the local plan-making process. The panel has not a single representative of community or environmental groups. Continue reading ‘Another developer-led panel to advise the Government on planning’

Corbyn and the Countryside: Labour’s new leader

Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, is widely seen as a dangerous, urban leftist, a threat to middle England. The only good thing the Daily Telegraph has found to say about him is that it approves of his vest.

But on planning and the countryside, Corbyn’s views seem remarkably old-fashioned. The poor man appears still to believe that governments should build houses for those who cannot afford to buy them, and plan where they should go.

We know at least something of what Corbyn thinks about these things because during the leadership campaign, alone among the candidates, he pumped out policy documents. We also know that he does not spend all his spare time at liberation rallies.

According to his local paper, he bakes his own bread, has “a fascination with British cheese – he’s a Stilton man – and a love of his allotment in East Finchley, where he can be found digging at weekends”. The local achievement of which he is proudest is helping create the Gillespie Nature Park in his constituency, when there were plans to build on the site. He supports the Green Belt and recognises the importance of children engaging with nature.

In a recent paper on Rural Renewal he says: “I was born in rural Wiltshire and grew up in Shropshire… Labour must become as much a party in communities like the one in which I was born as it is in inner city constituencies like the one I represent.”

The paper notes that “farming is at the heart of the rural economy, and its benefits are felt… throughout Britain”. On milk prices, he says: “It is simply not fair that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce…” Farming subsidies, he says, “should go to farmers engaging in the most ecologically sustainable practices, not those with the largest landholdings”.

There is little anyone could object to in Rural Renewal, though it is aimed more at those “struggling with issues such as housing costs, public service cuts and social exclusion” than at rural communities as a whole.

Perhaps more important than Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, or even his love of British cheese, is the fact that his politics look back to an era before the market was the measure of all things. One of the important divisions in British politics now is not between the political parties, but between those who believe essentially that you cannot buck the market and that economic growth is the overriding aim of politics, and those who sometimes want to constrain markets in the public interest – including through the planning system.

Within the Conservative Party, this is characterised as a difference between Economist Tories and Country Life Tories. The Labour Party has the same divisions. In these post-ideological times I have heard Labour MPs who apparently take their lines on planning from the Institute of Economic Affairs or the Adam Smith Institute (the Adam Smith Institute for the Criminally Insane, as Alan Bennett calls it).

Jeremy Corbyn is not post-ideological and he is not a moderniser. The greatest radical of modern British politics was Mrs. Thatcher[1], and unlike most Labour politicians (and most voters?) he has not accommodated himself to the changes she brought about. His politics remind me of Christopher Logue’s 1966 poem:

I shall vote Labour because deep in my heart I am a Conservative.

OK, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is unlikely to be hailed by voters in rural England. He will be judged on his views on foreign policy, defence, human rights, the economy and many areas of policy not covered in this blog. He will need more than policies to win over sceptics, starting perhaps with a patriotic narrative on Britishness or even Englishness.

But on housing, planning, the environment and wider rural issues, it is good that Jeremy Corbyn has had something to say, and that it has been thoughtful and sensible.

[1] John Gray: “The irony of Thatcher’s career is that the process she set in motion has erased forever the past to which she dreamed of returning.”

Corbyn and the countryside

If Jeremy Corbyn wins tomorrow, it is a fair bet his election will not be welcomed in ‘middle England’. The only good thing the Daily Telegraph, for instance, has found to say about him is that it approves his vest.

In the distant days when I was involved in the Labour Party, I was not on Jeremy Corbyn’s wing of the part. I shared Michael Foot’s view of ‘Bennfoolerly’. But Corbyn has fought a remarkably good campaign, combining hope and inspiration with weighty policy pronouncements (much weightier, anyway, than the other three contenders).

So, what can supporters of CPRE expect if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour Leader? Usefully, he has said more about planning, the environment and the countryside than all the other candidates put together. Continue reading ‘Corbyn and the countryside’

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