The countryside champions

More Glorious Than Ever

CPRE's Vision For The Countryside In 2026

If you could get hold of a really finely-calibrated time machine and propel yourself forward just a couple of decades or so, how would the Hampshire countryside look, as you stepped out of the machine onto an eminence such as Old Winchester Hill? Would the landscape have been wrecked by urban sprawl, roadbuilding, monoculture farming, with no birds singing and flowers only blooming where they've been told to? Or would it still be as lovely as ever and have more, not less, of the things that we value in it?

What is important to us about our countryside and what can we do to protect it? These are the sorts of questions CPRE Hampshire has been asking itself, in common with all the other 42 CPRE Branches. The point of the exercise was to try to distil all of our ambitions for Rural England into a single manifesto: CPRE's 2026 Vision, which was launched in May 2009.

Shaun Spiers

Shaun Spiers. Guest speaker at our 2009 AGM. The man who had the enviable (?) job of making a coherent document out of the opinions, prejudices, hopes and fears of 43 Branches, 5 Regions and innumerable committees, all of whom claim a complete monopoly of the truth.

We in CPRE are not, on the whole, much given to dreaming; on the contrary, we are a pretty pragmatic lot and if we see something we don't like, we say so and come up with a better plan. Nor are we, and never have been, a backward-looking organisation, seeking to preserve a vanishing rural idyll. That makes this document all the more interesting. For it is, in a considered way, powerfully optimistic. Taking as its starting point today's prevalent view that the combined pressures of built development, changes to farming practices and climate change would be more than the countryside could take, it finds that a combination of the right policy tools and a profound change in social attitudes will by 2026 make today's pessimism look strangely misplaced.

It identifies the change in people's values away from the single-minded pursuit of economic advantage towards a deeper realisation of what actually makes life better: things like beauty, tranquillity, sense of place and the enjoyment of green open spaces. Policies that play to these very deep-seated desires, some of which are in place and proving their worth today, such as the emphasis on re-use of brownfield land, protection of green belts and the encouragement of local food production and consumption will help, if we make sure they are implemented. The reaction to climate change, leading to more sustainable building and power generation will contribute too.

For a farming county like Hampshire, the emphasis on growing and eating local food will resonate especially. CPRE acknowledges the contribution farmers make to the beauty of the landscape and the importance to the landscape and the people who live in it and around it of eating proper food and living in houses they can afford. To quote the final paragraphs of the vision:

"In 2026 a new consensus around the importance of the countryside has enabled the country to move beyond acrimonious battles between 'NIMBYs' and 'philistine developers'. Development does happen in rural areas, but it does so through a democratic planning system that recognises the vital importance of our finite countryside. There is even a new confidence that sensitive, well planned development can even improve and beautify rural areas. As more people come to understand, visit and value the countryside, a virtuous circle has been created: the countryside improves, people care for it more, it is further improved and valued.

The countryside no longer seems permanently under threat, destined to shrink and degrade. Rather, it is valued and enjoyed by all as a huge national asset."

Shaun Spiers, the Chief Executive of CPRE (shown in photo) spoke about the vision at the CPRE Hampshire AGM in May 2009.

This article first appeared in Hampshire Views No.1, Spring/Summer 2009.

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Our vision is that by 2026 the quality of much of our countryside will have improved
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Read the CPRE 2026 Vision booklet (PDF)


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