The East Thames Crossing

I have written here before about the growing threat to the English (and Welsh) countryside of new roads. Now the issue has arisen close to home, with plans for a new river crossing east of Gravesend. I have a letter in today’s Medway Messenger, written as a Rochester resident – CPRE Kent’s much more measured, official line on this proposed act of vandalism is here. I suspect I will be writing more about this issue in the coming weeks. My letter is below.

I loved the picture of the proposed new Thames crossing in last week’s paper. How clean it looks! The picture shows mostly undisturbed countryside and its caption reads: ‘how the new bored tunnel will look in Kent’. But no road is ever as innocuous as the picture suggests. In reality, the new road will come with lots of noise, light pollution, air pollution and general ugliness. It will cut through beautiful countryside, destroy ancient woodland and blight the wonderful Shorne Wood Country Park.

The pity is that all this damage, at huge expense, will do little to relieve congestion in the longer term. Continue reading ‘The East Thames Crossing’

The Housing Bill: bad for villages

Here is an article on rural affordable housing that appears in this week’s Country Life.

Shortly before Christmas the Government declared its commitment to ‘rural proof’ all its policies. Rural issues, we were told, would be “a core policy consideration” for all departments. New mechanisms would “ensure the needs of the countryside are heard loud and clear across government”.

That was good to hear. But the Government’s housing policies, which look set to alter forever the fabric of rural life, have clearly not been rural proofed in any way.

Continue reading ‘The Housing Bill: bad for villages’

Why CPRE is promoting neighbourhood planning with government funding

CPRE is deeply unhappy with some aspects of government policy on housing and planning. As the housing and planning bill goes through Parliament and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is revised, we will be saying a lot about issues such as the right to buy and the so-called delivery test (which will force local authorities to release more land if those who have planning permission decide to build at their usual glacial pace). Continue reading ‘Why CPRE is promoting neighbourhood planning with government funding’

The dark side of the food industry

I spent a couple of days last week at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). This began as an alternative to the long-established Oxford Farming Conference, which was viewed as a forum for big farmers and the agri-tech industry – lots of talk of bigger machines and new inputs, much more about ‘the industry’ than people or nature.

Having never been, I do not know if this is fair (the website gives a clue) but in its seventh year the ‘real’ conference is now the bigger of the two events.

The ORFC exists to promote agroecology, and there were plenty of organic and biodynamic farmers, smallholders and would-be Diggers attending. But I also saw people from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), big estates, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and others involved in ‘mainstream’ farming. The dialogue is good, and one can hope for a growing understanding that profitable, productive farming need not conflict with beautiful, nature-rich countryside.

However, the most challenging (and depressing) session I attended concerned not nature, but people – the migrant labourers on whom our food industry increasingly depends. I wrote about it for the next issue of the Countryman – a slightly longer version of my column is below.

Like many people, I shop carefully. Generally I try to buy from local producers I trust, but when I buy from supermarkets I look for British food to support British famers, and food with some environmental or animal welfare credentials. A debate I attended at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January has made me realise that I need to think harder about who is producing the food and in what conditions.

The session heard from the investigative journalist Felicity Lawrence. A picture emerged of a food and farming industry dependent, to an alarming degree, on cheap migrant labourers. Many are brought to Britain with false papers and on false promises of prosperity, and kept in conditions little better than slavery. Continue reading ‘The dark side of the food industry’

More changes to planning: what’s going on?

The Government wants to amend the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It was meant to last a generation, but governments cannot leave the planning system alone. The consultation closes on 25 January, and at least CPRE’s policy staff will have something to think about over Christmas.

The first sign of this government’s itch to fiddle with the planning system was the appointment of an expert panel to advise on speeding up the delivery of local plans. Although I was critical of the composition of the panel, we have had a good dialogue with its Chair, John Rhodes, and made a detailed submission based on the evidence of CPRE branches from across the country. We look forward to the committee’s report in January.

But by then further changes to the planning system will be well in train, as the  Housing and Planning Bill reaches the end of its passage through Parliament. The expert panel is labouring to suggest improvements to a system the Government has already decided to change. And now, before the Bill has been properly debated let alone passed by Parliament, another set of changes is on the way.

The Bill, the appointment of the expert panel, and the proposed revisions to the NPPF have three things in common.

First, they are all about speeding up planning and making it easier to get planning permission. Continue reading ‘More changes to planning: what’s going on?’

Landscape vs. Nature?

Here is my column from the December Countryman, available in all good newsagents.

Before the general election CPRE put together the Landscapes for Everyone manifesto, supported by around 30 organisations. Around the same time, a different coalition called for a new Nature and Wellbeing Act to bring about a recovery of nature within a generation.

There was some crossover between the groups (CPRE, for instance, was in both) but the fact that half the conservation movement was campaigning for ‘nature’ and half for ‘landscape’ prompted the question of whether there must be a conflict between the two things. Nature exists in landscapes – indeed, ‘landscape scale conservation’ is the order of the day – so is there any sense in which the restoration of nature would not also benefit landscapes? Continue reading ‘Landscape vs. Nature?’

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’

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