Archive for February, 2014

The Royal Blog: growing villages, new settlements, and the third way

Princess Anne’s speech on housing yesterday seems to have united the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and CPRE. Royalty can do that sort of thing.   

The Princess is quoted in today’s Telegraph as asking: “Is it really necessary to only think in terms of large scale developments?… Maybe it isn’t such good value if you have to build in the facilities that need to go with it. You will need a new school, you will need new shops, you will need to create a community centre, but for many of the small scale developments you already have those.”

Building in existing villages, she said, was cheaper and would also help villages survive and keep their shops, pubs and schools. 

The HBF has welcomed Princess Anne’s words, even though they explicitly pose an alternative to the sort of large-scale developments its members favour. In response I said: “We want a living countryside, not a countryside of commuter villages or retirement ghettos. Continue reading ‘The Royal Blog: growing villages, new settlements, and the third way’

A Green Belt for London

Kaleidoscope City: Reflections on Planning and London, edited by Jonathan Manns, was published a couple of weeks ago.  The book is part of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s centenary celebrations, and can be downloaded here.  It is also available as an i-book or download for Kobo (or, if you must use Amazon, Kindle).


There are chapters by London historian Jerry White; architects Richard Rogers and Terry Farrell; Liz Peace of the British Property Federation; Peter Hall; and many others.  I intend to write on some of these in a future blog.  An abridged version of my essay on the Green Belt (with thanks to CPRE’s Oliver Hilliam) is here.  It tries to make the case for the Green Belt in terms of its contribution to London’s vibrancy, as much as its role in protecting the countryside. 



People often ask why CPRE is based in London.  The main answer, of course, is that power is concentrated (over-concentrated) in London and we exist to influence those in power.  But it is also the case that we protect the countryside for everyone, not just those who live in it.  Londoners need the countryside as much as anyone, and Londoners were instrumental in founding CPRE in 1926.  As the historian Howard Newby has written, the inter-war preservation movement was ‘a strange amalgam of patrician landowners… and socially-concerned Fabians (Hampstead dwellers, but keen hikers on the Downs) who believed in the pursuit of social justice through national planning’.


They set out to create a planning system that would ensure a clear distinction between town and country.  And for all our worries about countryside loss and degradation, they were phenomenally successful.  The English landscape was created by man and nature over thousands of years, but in the last hundred years we have had the capacity to destroy it, and it almost miraculous that we have not done so.


Nowhere is this achievement greater than in the containment of London, Cobbett’s ‘Great Wen’. Continue reading ‘A Green Belt for London’

The floods: some long-term thinking needed

Here is a slightly expanded version of my column for the next issue of the Countryman, available in all good newsagents. 


CPRE’s former President Bill Bryson is always amused by the English fascination with the weather.  “To an outsider,” he once wrote, “the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it.”  Well, I think even Bill would concede that we have had quite a lot of ‘weather’ recently.   

Whether the extreme weather that has become more commonplace is down to man-made climate change continues to be questioned, though not by many climate scientists: those who know most tend to worry most.

But whatever the cause of the extreme weather of recent years, we should expect more of it. Continue reading ‘The floods: some long-term thinking needed’