The countryside champions

Annual Review 2011-12

A Year Of Considerable Success

christopher napier

Christopher Napier, Chairman CPRE Hampshire
As presented at Annual General Meeting 17 May 2012

The last year has been one of very considerable success for CPRE Hampshire in many ways, I am pleased to say.

Let me start with a story of political infighting, intrigue, name calling, and U-turns.

The National Planning Policy Framework

As the House of Commons broke up for its summer recess it left behind a little bombshell which would lead to a battle of epic proportions between the Government and environmental organisations, led by CPRE and the National Trust. I refer of course to the draft National Planning Policy Framework which, if it had gone through unchallenged, would have seen the planning system become a top down driven tool for promoting economic growth, instead of the democratic system for balancing the needs of the economy with social and economic considerations which it has always been, successfully in the main.

Much that has been achieved by CPRE, and many others in the field of environmental protection, would have been swept away. Yet campaigners against this change were called "selfish nihilists" and other names by Ministers.

Developers with the ear of Ministers were quick to set up a counter attack to the environmentalist's challenge - with a view to protecting proposals which would have brought in a default "yes" to development of greenfield sites, both for housing and business. However their cause was not assisted when the only environmental member of the "team of four" which at the request of the Government had put together a first version of the NPPF, publicly withdrew his support - as the published draft (having been through the hands of the Treasury) did not represent what he had agreed to. Later, the only other non-developer member of the "team of four" also withdrew his support.

The battle raged on, the pressure on the Government increased as people flooded to sign the National Trust petition, and thousands of detailed and highly critical responses to the draft NPPF were sent in, including a very detailed response by CPRE Hampshire demonstrating that the draft framework was fundamentally flawed in several ways. Members of Parliament were plagued with letters and emails, and here in Hampshire by our Briefings and emails.

Support for the campaign from the Daily Telegraph was very welcome, and just before Christmas the House of Commons CLG Select Committee issued a report essentially agreeing with all CPRE's key concerns. We had had some hand in this through our discussions with George Hollingbury MP, a member of the CLG Select Committee, about our concerns and to brief him on the CPRE analysis of the effect on the ground of the wording of the draft Framework.

Our Concerns Addressed

The tide turned when David Cameron came out and said how much he valued our English countryside (which he does), and Ministers then agreed to go through the draft "line by line", with CPRE mainly.

The positive news is that the Government did listen to CPRE and our allies, and addressed CPRE's key objectives in the final NPPF. These include a clearer definition of sustainable development, an explicit recognition of the value of the countryside as a whole, and a stronger emphasis on building on previously developed brownfield sites rather than green spaces.

National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty retain the highest level of protection and, for the first time in planning policy, councils are encouraged to combat light pollution and to protect areas of tranquillity - which make such an important contribution to our health and quality of life and have been the subject of campaigns by CPRE over many years.

Ultimately, the proof of the final policy framework will be how it works in practice. There are conflicts built into the wording, which the Government has made clear will have to be resolved through the process of local plan making and local planning applications. Already some local authorities seem to have taken fright and granted greenfield applications, quoting the presumption in favour of sustainable development as requiring them so to do, when in fact that is not the case.

So, we will have to remain vigilant, and may need to fight appeals by developers, or even perhaps judicial review, if we are to secure the best results for what even Greg Clark rightly referred to as 'our matchless countryside'.

We are also concerned about the limit of 12 months to adopt a new style Local Plan, which will pose serious challenges to many local authorities. Yet, this is critical if local people are to have a real voice in planning decisions, and not to be left in the hands of planning inspectors.

Community Planning

One of the Government's key policies is the communities should have more say in shaping the area where they live through Neighbourhood Planning - something CPRE strongly supports. In conjunction with the National Association of Local Councils, CPRE was one of four organisations which received funding from CLG to further localism and neighbourhood planning within communities.

We were asked to provide advice and guidance, which now comes in the form of 3 free publications; 'How to Respond to Planning Applications', 'Planning Explained' and 'A Guide to Neighbourhood Planning'. These are very good, and provide communities with up to date advice on the new planning system. Also available is a suit of online training materials, which includes face-to-face training modules and e-learning, a new planning website and telephone hotline.

This is CPRE at its best, helping people to protect their countryside.

Parish Seminars

We were also asked to provide training events for local communities and, being the proactive branch we are, we decided to put on a number of training sessions across Hampshire. The first was an introduction to the new planning system, with the aim of getting more people involved with planning matters. The second was a more technical event and was aimed at Parish councils and community groups who wanted to learn more detail about Localism and Neighbourhood planning. For the third seminar we worked with the South Downs National Park.

These seminars have been a huge success for CPRE Hampshire. We have had over 200 participants, spoke to over 70 parish councils and community groups and made many new contacts. They have raised our profile across the County and shown us to be at the cutting edge of neighbourhood planning. They have opened many doors for future cooperation and partnership working and have introduced us to new audiences. Very many thanks to Becky for all her hard work in organising them, and to our volunteers who made presentations and facilitated workshops. Looking forward, we are about to run a focussed workshop to aid communities who are already actively engaging in the Neighbourhood Plan process.

We do realise that Neighbourhood Planning is not for every community and as we will be offering advice and hopefully active training on how communities can feed into their Local Plans in a way which will ensure that their views and aspirations are listened to.

Landscape Character Assessment

We see Local Landscape Character Assessments as providing the protection of the countryside within this new framework and we are working actively with Hampshire County Council (HCC) to promote these. A new booklet on the subject produced by HCC draws heavily on work of CPRE, including the pilot projects we did here in Hampshire a few years ago.

Whereas the process of developing the now discredited Regional Spatial Strategies tended to suck Branch contributions upwards to remote bodies, such as the Regional Assembly, neighbourhood planning gives us a real opportunity to re-engage with our communities and become much better known for our work and our expertise.

It is an opportunity we need to take, and we are taking.

Local Plans

Alongside the new neighbourhood plans, we have emerging Core Strategies for most Districts, as part of new Local Plans, and we have been active in the review of these, which we have used these as an opportunity to draw in like minded organisations and concerned Parish Councils, along with our own interested members, to develop common views. This has provided good support for our own views, and it is likely that common approaches and tactics will be developed for the forthcoming Examinations in Public.

Other Planning Matters

Wind turbines have been much in the news recently. CPRE has a policy of supporting wind turbines in appropriate places, but has become concerned about the sheer number of applications in some parts of the country, and the fact that planning inspectors have been permitting wind farms in order to meet national renewable energy targets, despite finding serious impacts on landscape or heritage. These issues are being taken up with Government.

Here in Hampshire we have been relatively free of windfarm applications so far, but we are now supporting Candover Local Action Group in their opposition to seven proposed wind turbines near Preston Candover.

We have also continued to support Save Barton Farm Group. Following a whole series of judicial reviews brought by Cala Homes, and the advent of the NPPF replacing all of the guidance which applied at the time of the Public Inquiry in Winchester last year, the still ongoing appeal by the developer has become very complex, to put it mildly! Currently the Secretary of State has to make a new decision on the appeal which he earlier refused, and we have provided him with new arguments to justify a further refusal. Similarly we have continued to support the campaign against the Fareham SDA.

South Downs National Park

The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is now in charge of planning in the new SDNP and doing a good job so far.

Through a network of environmental organisations, the South Downs Network, we are actively involved in developing the new Management Plan and Core Strategy which will cover the whole national park area. Confounding some of the critics, the SDNPA has been very successful in levering in large sums of new money for chalkland restoration and heathland restoration, and now has one of only 12 in the country of the new Nature Improvement Areas, focussed on the South Downs Way.

One project in the national park in which we are very actively involved, indeed leading, is the South Downs Electric Bicycle Network, being piloted in the Petersfield area. It involves multiple hire points, usually at accommodation providers and tourist attractions, and charge points at cafés, pubs and so on, all interlinked by a network of scenic cycling routes and trails. Our thanks go to Camilla Swiderska for all her work on this splendid scheme, designed to get visitors out of their cars.

Water Resources

We have also become active in the ongoing debate on water resources - very topical as it happens - and the lack of any official recognition of the linkage between water supply and housing development. We have joined the CPRE South East Water Group.

As so often, our ability to take an active part in areas of interest depends on whether there is a volunteer willing to devote some time and energy - Moya Grove in this case.

Planning & Policy Group

All that I have talked about so far comes within the overview of what was called the Planning & Rural Group - PRG- now called the Planning & Policy Group - PPG, which better describes what it does, I believe. We have stimulating debates, and the PPG is open to anyone who wants to join or come to a meeting. My thanks to all PPG members for their contributions, especially this last year when we have had the NPPF to deal with, and also for their work in the Districts on local planning applications which are such an important part of our work in protecting our countryside. My special thanks also to Becky French, who services the work of the PPG and without whom it would all fall apart.

Finances and Partnerships

You will shortly be hearing the financial report from Tony Fessler our Treasurer but without wishing to steal his thunder I think it worth making a few remarks about money.

It is a fact that, under current economic conditions, charitable trusts have less income to distribute than they used to. It is also a fact that the demands on them have grown. Few Trusts are prepared to offer "core funding" for worthwhile causes such as CPRE Hampshire. Rather they seek positive and measurable outputs such as those associated with projects and programmes. Over the last year we have continued to make approaches to a number of new trusts but it seems CPRE Hampshire is not delivering the sort of outputs that appeal to those beyond whom we already have an established relationship. So, we are lucky to have received such a generous grant (which of course we need to match) from the Linbury Trust, but it is not something we can rely upon into the long term.

Corporate Support and Partnerships

On the other hand businesses are increasingly seeking ways to promote their green credentials and demonstrate this concern to their customers and stakeholders. As "the voice of the countryside" we have a good story to tell and a number of local companies have been very supportive. These include Steve's Leaves, a part of the Vitacress group, who have increased their support to our Countryside Awards scheme and also Smiths Gore (land agents and rural surveyors) who have agreed to sponsor the Rural Enterprise category of the Countryside Awards. Our opera was supported by the chartered accountant CW Fellowes, and we have received funding from Tarmac and Veolia for our Newsletters. On the back of a promise of funding from NFU Mutual Insurance we are planning a hard copy Autumn Newsletter and hopefully this will help raise further funds through advertising.

In short - we are having reasonable success with accessing corporate funding but how far this can be taken remains to be seen.

The number of organisations with whom we now have a much closer working relationship continues to grow. They now include Hampshire Fare and Hampshire Ambassadors, the Hampshire Gardens Trust and, most recently, the Gilbert White House and Oates Museum Trust. Quite where these relationships will take us only the future can tell. However by expanding our network and preparing to stand together on issues where we have common ground we increase our influence and, potentially, our ability to access funding by working together on projects of mutual interest.

As to current projects, we are working with the Wessex Chalk Streams Rivers Trust, Vitacress Conservation Trust and Southampton University on a joint study into phosphate pollution of our chalk streams. At Bishops Waltham we were instrumental in initiating a "before and after" project to study the impact on local food webs of a new superstore, using CPRE's Mapping Local Food Webs toolkit.

So much of all this activity in commercial ventures, partnership agreements and projects is due to Anthony Mcewen, and the great energy and new ideas he has brought with him, doing so much to raise our profile, gain us new friends, and bring in the financial sponsorship we so badly need to balance the books. Very many thanks Anthony, from us all.

Lord Selborne's Lecture

A recent event which was very successful in raising our profile, stimulating debate on a subject of great interest, and earning us good money, was the lecture by Lord Selborne on living with environmental change - which took place here in Itchen Abbas Village Hall; and was attended by over 100 people - members and non members. As well as a fascinating lecture, it was an enjoyable social occasion. This is a formula we would like to repeat - year on year, if we can. So if you have any thoughts as to who we might invite to speak, do please let Anthony or I know.

Our Treasurer will brief you on our finances, but last year's accounts would be very much the worse but for the opera at Bedales School, which was a considerable success and raised over £9,000. The Bedales Theatre is not available this year or next, but we have decided to run an opera event next year at Winchester College, all being well. However, I must make clear that this cannot rely on the extraordinary amount of work put in by Anthony to the opera last year, for which we are very grateful.

Membership

In terms of gaining new members, Hampshire is second only to Kent in recruitment, and for the first time for many years we have seen a net increase. Added to this, comes those who have in the past been committed only to the national charity, but have now opted to become members of the Branch. This amounts to some 300 new members, which is a splendid injection of new blood. Welcome to you all, and we hope to be able to invite you to a welcome event later in the year, along with other new members.

Staff and Volunteers

So, yes, a year of considerable success in many ways. As is apparent from what I have said, our staff are vital to our success and influence, and I would like to pay tribute to everyone in the office. I have already mentioned Becky and Anthony but would also like to pay a tribute to the work of Jo George who supports Tony Fessler by maintaining accurate accounts and has, over recent months, updated our members' data base to the extent that we are now able to use it - with confidence - for targeted mail shots and similar purposes. Not the most glamorous work, but essential to our efficiency.

As to our volunteers, some I have mentioned, but those who serve as Trustees, and so on the Executive Committee, have special thanks from the Chairman. This year Allan Drinkwater has stood down, having previously been Chairman of the CPRE South East Transport Group. He will continue to be involved in planning work. Thank you, Allan.

Then there is Jeremy Wood, who has been a stalwart member of the Eexecutive Committee for the full 8 years allowed by the constitution, as well as a strong contributor to what was East Hampshire District Group. Always a voice of reason and commonsense, he has played a very active part in our campaigning on road clutter, where we have had some success with more to come, and on low noise road surfacing where we have yet to win victory. He has also been the organiser of our tent at the Alton show for the last 7 years. He will remain available to help us with transport issues. But, Jeremy, in the meantime it is my pleasure to present you with a CPRE Countryside Medal.

Until he stood down at the end of last year, Hugh Shepherd was our Vice Chairman, chaired the F&GP Committee and what is now the North East District Group. In these roles he has played a crucial part in the work and success of the Branch over several years. He has also made something of a name for himself as an aviation campaigner. This was in the battle over a proposal to increase aircraft movements at Farnborough Airport. These additional flights will be mainly business flights, with very few passengers on each flight, and so (as Hugh flagged up so clearly) particularly extravagant in terms of emissions - by 2019, the increase in emissions will be equivalent to a town of 30,000 people. While the Inspector chose to ignore these facts, they will undoubtedly be picked up as the Government reviews its aviation strategy. Thank you Hugh for all your work for the Branch, and again it is my pleasure to present you with a CPRE Countryside Medal.

So, I have specifically acknowledged some of our volunteers, but it is my duty and great pleasure, as always, to thank all our volunteers for their wonderful work during the year. As I always say, without our volunteers the Branch would be nothing.

This page last updated 27th May 2012.

 ALSO FROM THE AGM:

Tom Davis Tom Davis executive director of the Test & Itchen Association gave a talk Southern Chalk Streams, Britain's Rain Forests

 SEE ALSO:

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