The new government: Defra and Beis

This is the second of two blogs, mainly for CPRE members, on the composition of the new government. The first can be found here.

Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra

The appointment of Elizabeth Truss as Environment Secretary in 2014 was greeted with little enthusiasm by environmentalists. She did not enter the role as a committed environmentalist, but she was willing to engage – for instance, hosting a CPRE seminar on landscape – and she pushed forward the 25 year plan for nature with conviction. Liz Truss also deserves thanks for approving the extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. I wish her well in her new role as Lord Chancellor.

If Liz Truss’s appointment was coolly received, Andrea Leadsom’s has been greeted by some with outright hostility. Continue reading ‘The new government: Defra and Beis’

The new government: Treasury and CLG

A number of CPRE members have asked what we should make of the new Government. What follows is largely for them.

It is rather more hopeful than some commentaries from environmentalists. No government will do everything campaigners want – governments cannot achieve what they want, let alone satisfying everyone else. But Ministers, learning on the job, can confound expectations.

I gave initial thoughts on Theresa May as Prime Minister in an earlier blog.

The Treasury

George Osborne has been a dominant figure in government over the past six years. He had a big impact on national life, and many achievements. But it is unlikely he will be missed by conservationists. For all his undoubted qualities, he had a tin ear when it came to listening to the environmental concerns or people worried about development. He interfered constantly in the planning system, but made no effort to understand it. Continue reading ‘The new government: Treasury and CLG’

Farming after Brexit: reasons to be hopeful

Whatever one thinks of the decision to leave the European Union, in one respect at least, it presents a great opportunity.

For 30 years during and after the war, the purpose of UK agricultural policy was to increase food production. Since 1973, farming policy has largely been decided in Brussels. Now we have the chance to fashion our own farming and land management policy for the twenty-first century.

England’s countryside is in large measure the product of farming. Those who manage the land should be rewarded not only for the crops they sell, but also for ‘public goods’ such as flood management, carbon capture, promoting wildlife and, yes, maintaining and enriching beautiful landscapes.

But farmers will soon be competing for limited funds with steel workers, the NHS and other causes. Continue reading ‘Farming after Brexit: reasons to be hopeful’

Our new Prime Minister and the countryside

Congratulations to Theresa May on becoming Prime Minister.

What follows is a brief overview of some of Mrs May’s stated views as they relate to CPRE’s work. Over the next week I will write about other appointments and departures, and look at some of the main challenges the new government faces, notably fashioning a new English Agricultural Policy and tackling the housing crisis.

For someone so prominent in British politics, it is surprising how little we know about Theresa May’s views. As a recent article in the Financial Times (£) puts it: “In her 19 years as an MP, Theresa May has made a habit of sticking to the party line and her brief, rather than laying out broad political views.” This stands in striking contrast to at least one of her recent appointments.

But we do know that Theresa May has been an assiduous MP for Maidenhead, supporting local campaigns to improve the town and protect the countryside around it. Indeed, she gave a well-received speech at last October’s CPRE Berkshire AGM, though she was careful to stick to the Government line. Her website celebrates Maidenhead’s “beautiful surrounding countryside” and she enjoys village life, recalling on Desert Island Discs “many happy evenings in the… village hall with friends”.

Cheeringly for CPRE supporters, her website has the following section on planning and development.

Theresa May speaking at CPRE Berkshire Branch AGM  on 23rd October 2015. Photo credit: Nigel Keene

Theresa May speaking at CPRE Berkshire Branch AGM on 23rd October 2015.
Photo credit: Nigel Keene

Continue reading ‘Our new Prime Minister and the countryside’

Affordable rural housing: why it matters

This blog that follows is one of a number of essays prompted by Labour: COAST & COUNTRY’s Rural Housing programme. The full collection of essays will be published in the autumn.


What is rural England for? There is no clear answer to that, certainly no government policy, and I guess many people will think it a stupid question. But it is hard to plan for the future of the countryside if we do not know what we want from it.

Most of England’s land is rural. It has economic importance – we farm and quarry it, use it to produce energy, value it for recreation and tourism. Land is also an environmental asset, providing a place for nature and helping us adapt to climate change. Finally, many people live in the countryside and many more would like to.

Ministers in the last Labour government were fond of talking about the ‘multi-functionality’ of the land, a term banned as jargon since 2010. Perhaps we can be grateful for that, but there is no escaping the fact that every acre of our land serves multiple purposes. It is not just vacant space with development potential. Continue reading ‘Affordable rural housing: why it matters’

22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside

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

22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside by Peter Waine and Oliver Hilliam is a reminder of why people care so much about the countryside and how it has come to be “saved” – saved, at least, from a much worse fate than it has received. Each of the 22 ideas is supported by stunning photographs that show as clearly as words that our countryside is the product of human decisions, as well as of nature. The most beautiful rural scene owes something to human intervention, and in many cases is enhanced by it.

Human intervention cannot be avoided in as small and crowded a country as ours. Change is inevitable, and inevitably something will be lost (most of us like the countryside we remember as children, or think we remember). The point is to seek to minimise the damage that changes bring and maximise the benefits.

Too often the advocates of progress are heedless of its consequences, so the book is in part an anthology of splendid rage against Philistines and Gradgrinds – despoilers, disfigurers, Treasury officials. It is a sort of ‘greatest hits’ of conservationist entreaty and invective. Continue reading ’22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside’

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’

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