A Christmas countdown: a dozen delights from 2017
As the festive season approaches, we’ve taken some time out of our campaigning to reflect on an eventful and successful year for CPRE and the countryside. We’ve had some great successes over the past 12 months – all thanks to the support and dedication of our staff, volunteers and supporters. It’s also been a year of change for CPRE; this year we welcomed our new CEO, Crispin Truman, who has been busy meeting many of our volunteers, members and partners and is providing us with a fresh outlook on some of the challenges we face.
As the festive period traditionally sees a proliferation of lists, top tens and highlights for everything from comedy moments to Christmas tunes, we’d like to get in on the act and share our 12 highlights of the year for the countryside.
- Deposit return system in sight
We’ve long campaigned for the introduction of a Deposit Return System for drinks containers in England, and this year has seen some of the biggest strides towards it yet. Several large retailers and a major waste giant have come out in favour of DRS, Scotland showed England the way by committing to a national scheme, the Government published the first ever National Litter Strategy, the Environmental Audit Committee has backed a scheme and public support for DRS has grown, further encouraged by the success of the plastic bag charge announced earlier this year – a 85% drop in plastic bag usage! We’ll continue to apply the pressure, but this is definitely one to watch…
- New brownfield registers
New regulations requiring local authorities to develop and publish brownfield land registers came into force on Easter Day this year, something we have been campaigning for over the past couple of years. This should help to give an accurate picture of the land available for development without losing precious countryside.
But we’ll need to keep our eyes on the ball with this one: our latest report has discovered that the new registers are failing to account for small brownfield sites, which could provide space for almost 200,000 extra homes across England. The deadline for councils to publish their registers is New Year’s Eve.
- A Supreme decision: Kent AONB saved
CPRE Kent won a landmark victory at the Supreme Court, which overturned the decision by Dover District Council to grant planning permission for significant development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) at Farthingloe. Well done to all involved!
CPRE Kent seem to be on a bit of a roll of late, as they were also successful at the High Court in helping to overturn an appeal over developments they argued would increase air pollution. The verdict meant this was the first time air quality has been considered as a factor in determining a planning decision, meaning that future applications must consider air pollution.
- Starry skies over Bodmin
Staying with AONBs, Bodmin Moor was awarded Dark Sky Landscape status by the International Dark-Sky Association. It’s the first AONB to gain this recognition, and made good use of our Night Blight maps, which were used as complementary evidence. The Night Blight maps have proved to be a valuable tool, and were used in various neighbourhood plans, by county councils, AONBs and National Parks, and appear in Phillips’ latest stargazing guide. Our Night Blight campaign was also commended for Campaign of the Year in the prestigious ENDS (Environmental Data Services) Awards 2017.
- Green Belt protected in the autumn budget
After Philip Hammond threatened to release even more Green Belt land for housing in the Budget, more than 10,000 of our supporters wrote to your local MPs to send a powerful message and show just how valuable the Green Belt is to us. Thanks to their voices, the Chancellor completely backed down, saying the Government will continue their ‘strong protection of our Green Belt’. While this does not mean that Green Belt is entirely safe, this was a critical turnaround. A huge thank you to all that took part!
- Government recognises broken housing market
The Government released their plans for housing in a White Paper earlier this year, which had the marks of CPRE campaigning all over it. There were some key moves in the right direction, with the Government recognising that just meddling with the planning system won’t solve the housing crisis. Let’s hope we can continue our pressure in 2018 to make sure communities get the housing they need, without harming the countryside in the process.
- £1billion for greener travel
In April, the publication of the first ever Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy was a huge achievement, given that we led the campaign for 2015’s Infrastructure Act to include a duty to invest in walking and cycling – with a fair share of funding for rural areas. We welcomed the strategy’s ambition to make rural roads safer for walkers and cyclists, and we’ll continue to push for a fair share of the £1bn of funding to be deployed in rural areas and market towns. This is particularly important given that our first big report of the year found that building new roadsseldom brought economic benefit for areas – or even relieved congestion in the long term.
- Calling for rural affordable housing
CPRE’s work on rural affordable housing helped get it on the public agenda this year. The Times’ editorial used CPRE’s research to urge the Government to fix the problem of developers ‘rowing back on affordable housing commitments to the extent of 18 much-needed rural homes a day’.
- Protect …
Three thousand acres of the South Downs National Park were saved from being sold off after CPRE Sussex – working alongside groups including The South Downs Society and Eastbourne Friends of the Earth – helped convince Eastbourne Council to reconsider the plans.
- …And enhance
Emma Bridgewater joined the Friends of the Peak District in Buxton to launch a unique new walking route. The Peak District Boundary Walk celebrates the magnificent scenery of England’s first National Park – itself mapped in the late 1930s by volunteers co-ordinated by CPRE in Sheffield. CPRE Sussex celebrated national recognition for its community engagement work at the 2017 Planning Awards. The branch won the Community-Led Placemaking award for its innovative ‘Making Places’ project, which helps people celebrate what matters to them about the character of their local area. These are just two of the many contributions made by our volunteers to enhance our countryside, including CPRE Staffordshire, who this year helped local community groups plant over 1,000 trees.
- Unesco status for Lake District
The Lake District National Park has been listed as a world heritage site, becoming the UK’s first National Park to be granted the status. As members of National Park Partnership, Friends of the Lake District – our representatives in the area – joined in our delight that the joint bid for World Heritage Site inscription was successful, recognising the culmination of a great deal of effort by the partnership over many years. The Friends are especially pleased that the bid has helped to increase attention on the cultural heritage of the Lakes.
- Looking to the future
In the spring we published our Landlines pamphlet, in which we called for a strategic, long-term approach to the way our land is used to enable us to use it better. We launched with the backing of renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell, whose contribution argued that ‘the proper planning of land use is a top priority for our very survival in the long term’.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of our achievements this year. Honorary mentions have to go to our well-attended events at the 2017 party conferences and the publication of our regular Foresight papers, including Uncertain Harvest, and the fantastic range of work done by our branch network and their committed staff and volunteers.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our top dozen countryside moments of 2017; watch this space for plenty more campaigning and activity next year. It looks set to be a busy one with the long awaited 25-year Environment Plan, an Agriculture Bill on the cards, and a new draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, which will shape the future of housing in England. It’s all to play for…
Season’s greetings and thanks for your support!