Annual Report 2009-10
A Year of Change
Christopher Napier, Chairman CPRE Hampshire
The reason why I stand before you today is a sad one, as you know. When I stood down as your Chairman at the AGM in July 2008, John Venning took over, but was careful to say that he would be a caretaker Chairman only. This reduced expectations, yet in fact he took the job to his heart, and we saw several initiatives - including the appointment of Lucy Stirling to advise us how to improve our fundraising. We remember, in particular, the great care and time he took to address personally all the letters for last year's appeal, which raised over £7000 for the Branch - a record. His charm and personality endeared him to all, and so it was with great shock and distress that we heard of his sudden death on holiday with Sybil in the West Country So, let me now publicly applaud all John's work for us, within the Branch and in East Hampshire, and give again our condolences to Sybil.
I regret that is not the only sad news I have to report. Minette Palmer has played an important part in the successes of East Hampshire District Group which I will refer to later, and she has done so with the strong support of her husband, Harry Palmer, who had been a friend to us all in the District with his wit and good humour. So, his recent death was a blow to us all. Minette is here today and she has our great sympathies. She is not giving up however - far from it - as she has become the elected Parish Member for East Hampshire on the new South Downs National Park Authority, carrying the strong encouragement of Harry with her.
Open Source Planning
Of course we now have a new Government, of a very different complexion to those of recent times - and it has not fallen apart yet! In my Review at the 2008 AGM I observed how - despite massive resources and public consultation invested in the South East Plan - democratic planning process did not produce the outcome the Government wanted, and so was overruled by imposition of higher housing targets, Growth Areas and so on. Today we see those housing targets already done away with by the new Government, and the whole regional structure to be abolished. This means that Save Barton Farm Group, which we support, is given a new lease of life, and the new towns at Fareham and Hedge End - which we opposed at the Regional EIP - will get reviewed, giving us an opportunity to make our arguments once again.
Then, democratic planning is to be restored by giving decision making powers to local communities. We say Bravo to that, and it will provide us with real opportunities - which we must grasp - to get CPREs views across to the people of Hampshire, and get new members and volunteers. But, at the same time, giving a lot of planning power to local communities may make life more complicated and demanding for us if we have to influence every community instead of a single Regional Assembly. How far can we trust communities to make good decisions which respect the countryside? Actually, quite a lot, I believe - with a little help from us!
But what we would not welcome is an outcome in which we lose the SE Plan strategy which focuses development on the more urban areas of the County, and so releasing pressure on the countryside in general, and we need to be on our guard against that. So far, there are more questions than answers. Districts are to be the masters now, but will the County Council have a role in strategic planning as it did before planning on a regional basis came on the scene? Will an obsession with the economy of the last 13 years give way to a more real interest in the countryside and natural environment? What will happen to the Sub-Regions and the Whitehill / Bordon eco-town?
We shall have to wait and see how it all pans out. All we can say is that these are exciting times!!
The 2026 Vision
Something we have today to help us is the CPRE Vision for the Countryside 2026. This will give us a very positive stance in our discussions with local communities - to dispel any negative image of CPRE - and also provides a forward looking framework against which to influence and judge community ideas and proposals. "How far does this align with the Vision?", may become, and perhaps should become, our instinctive question. The Vision also gives us opportunities for profile raising in presentations which will hold peoples' interest and show them a new face to CPRE.
South Downs National Park
So many times I hear that we, meaning CPRE as a whole, does not trumpet our successes enough. We do need to be more confident about doing so, and the last year has brought us several big successes we can talk about.
The most enduring of these is the South Downs National Park, which came into existence at one minute past midnight on the night of 30th/31st March, to join in Hampshire the new Forest National Park. At the same moment the Sussex Downs and East Hampshire Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty disappeared, after manfully holding the fort in protecting out landscape for the last 40 years. National park designation gives this 620 square miles of beautiful countryside, - stretching over 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne - the highest protection available for its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage - hopefully forever.
The shock when the inspector's Report was released in July 2007, recommending that the Western Weald be left out of the new national park, was palpable, particularly when it dawned that a substantial part of the beautiful Western Weald might even lose AONB status as a result. We rallied fast and rushed out to the media, seminars, Bill Bryson, wherever, to explain our case and muster public, local authority and parish council support to reopen the Inquiry and re-examine the Western Weald. In due course the membership of the South Downs Campaign grew from 80 to over 160 organisations, and inclusion of the Western Weald in the SDNP gained overwhelming public support. Much time and effort was put into the evidence presented to the re-opened Inquiry as to why the Western Weald should be included - and incidentally presented to the same Inspector who recommended the WW be left out! This evidence was of the highest standard, made an overwhelming case for including the Western Weald, and to my mind, was the real influence in getting the Inspector to change his mind and recommend its inclusion. Even Natural England and HCC, who were also challenging the July 2007 recommendation, have readily conceded that this evidence was crucial - and Hilary Benn, in confirming the new national park, especially acknowledged the work of the South Downs Campaign.
Our work was under the umbrella of the South Downs Campaign, and there are many who can take credit, but let there be no doubt that the Campaign was masterminded to a large degree by CPRE East Hampshire volunteers. The new national park contains everything we fought for - and indeed even more as Alice Holt Forest was added by the Secretary of State. To my mind this was a quite outstanding, and truly historic, success for CPRE Hampshire, and one which we are quite entitled to crow about whenever we get the chance. And it was quite right to hold a celebration party in the splendid Tithe Barn at Ditcham on the day the new national park came into being
And now, after 60 years taken to get a South Downs National Park, things are moving fast. Along with the national park itself comes a new body - the South Downs National Park Authority. This is already operating in shadow mode, until 1 April 2011 when it will take up full operational functions. We will hear much more about all that later on today.
So, the crucial thing to note at this stage is that, at its first meeting on 20 April, the members of the NPA elected our own Margaret Paren, prime mover of the South Downs Campaign, as Chairman of the NPA - and she is our speaker today. This acknowledges the huge role she played in achieving national park status for the South Downs, and is a very well earned accolade to her and to the work of CPRE Hampshire volunteers. Another thing to note now is that members of the team appointed by DEFRA to set up the new NPA have been really impressed by the extraordinary passion for the South Downs, and commitment to its future, that they have found wherever they go. So, the new NPA comes into being with huge goodwill from the local population, and many others.
At the last AGM we were still facing an attack on our new national park by a proposal for two massive wind turbines right on top of the South Downs at East Meon, one of the most tranquil parts, and with one turbine proposed to be only a few feet from the South Downs Way. Working closely with the local community, gathering other influential allies, advocating our case at parish council meetings, distributing leaflets, and making our case convincingly in writing to all who would read it, all together brought one day in July last year a telephone call from the Chairman of East Meon Parish Council to tell us that the developers has seen the light and withdrawn the proposal. The relief was enormous locally, and was also widespread as success for the developer would have put every national park and AONB in the country under threat from massive wind turbines.
So, another significant success we can tell people about.
And again, sticking to our guns because we know we are right - despite the professional advice of planners to the contrary - has brought another significant success - for which we must thank Hugh Sheppard in the North East District Group This is in the battle over a proposal to increase aircraft movements by 79% at Farnborough Airport. The proposed additional flights are mainly business flights, with very few passengers on each flight, and so are particularly extravagant in terms of emissions - by 2019, the increase in emissions would be equivalent to a town of 30,000 people.
The planners kept telling us that increased emissions could not be a basis for refusal of the application, but, aided by the High Court judgment on the Heathrow Third Runway, it is now clear that that view - which was not only contrary to common sense, but also contrary to the Government's own recent legislation to reduce carbon emissions - was quite wrong. An appeal is now going on where our work on increased emissions will play a major role in the evidence presented to the Inspector. Small airfields and airstrips in the countryside can also bring problems to tranquillity, and considerable work has been done in tracking the location and extent of these, and in alerting people to the dangers.
Decluttering our Rural Roads
CPRE Hampshire has led the campaign for clutter reduction on our highways, and some years ago now persuaded HCC to lead the way nationally with a pilot de-clutter scheme on the A32 Meon Valley Road between West Meon Hut and Wickham - a distance of 12 miles - and a pilot shared space traffic management scheme at West Meon itself In the de-clutter, over 200 signs and posts have been removed, and many further signs reduced in size or combined with other sign assemblies. Unauthorised signs including advertising 'A' boards have been removed, and hazard marker posts replaced with more attractive timber bollards.
The road surface has been resurfaced with different colour aggregate through the length of the village, gateway features installed to mark village entrances, contrasting buff colour surface material used in central spaces within the village to create Node Points, all carriageway centreline and road studs removed, and use of bespoke timber bollards with reflectors used to mark boundaries.
The result is that the village no longer looks like a race track - or even an A road - and It provides an entirely different environment which says to the driver - "take care here". Crucially, average speeds through the village have reduced by 10% - with no accidents so far. Do go and see it, and you can compare the de-cluttered part of the A32 with the northern section up to Alton.
The trick now is to get this rolled out across Hampshire. HCC Environmental Dept are on side and seeking to persuade the highway engineers to make decluttering part of their daily work - which is the only way we will get real and long term impact on out cluttered roads. As for a shared spaced scheme in your village, there is no need to wait for HCC to come knocking on your door.
Buriton village have, on their own initiative, worked with HCC to introduce their own scheme - raising their own funds to implement it. Well done Buriton!
Our farmers and landowners, and our local authorities, need every help they can get to reduce the eyesore, frustration and financial cost caused by people just popping onto their land to drop of a tonne or so of construction waste, or worse. And, an estimated 25 million tonnes of litter is dropped nationally every year - mostly food and drink packaging = the weight of 62,500 jumbo jets. So, it is really pleasing that I can report the launch of our fly-tipping project. CPRE Hampshire is leading, working in partnership with the NFU, CLA, EA, EHDC and 12 parish councils in East Hampshire.
Our Vice President, Sir James Scott, is playing a prominent role. It turns out that the authorities have no information whatever on fly-tipping on private land, especially farmland, and so, at the express request of the EA, this is a fly tipping reporting and analysis project - to last one year. The reporters are volunteers from CPRE Hampshire, NFU and CLA within the 12 parishes, and are known as "fly-spotters" We got going with a grant from the South Downs SDF, which allowed us to appoint a project officer to set up the project, which was launched at East Meon VH with about 80 people attending, from all quarters.
We now have volunteer 'fly-spotters' - which shows what can be achieved by working in partnership, good organisation and publicity, and choosing an issue people do care about. Their reports will be fed into a crime analysis computer by the EA At the same time Brian Brown has mustered 100 volunteers to ensure no scrap of litter defiles the parish of Froxfield, and we are about to appoint litter wardens to organise litter guardians in 7 parishes - funded by money from a legacy to national CPRE.
So, I hope you will agree that we are making a significant contribution to Bill Bryson's national "Stop the Drop" campaign. What could you do in your village?
Parish Council Seminars
In the autumn last year we reinstated a seminar for Parish Councils, organised by Becky French with support from the Association of Hampshire Town & Parish Councils. It was a great success, with over 70 delegates attending - and we took the opportunity to give them a session on the 2026 Vision. The secret of success, to my mind, was that we asked them what they wanted to talk about in the planning workshop, each with a CPRE Hampshire facilitator. They professed to be very keen on another seminar this year, and that will take place on 10 November at Alresford Council Offices - please tell you Parish Council.
Parish Council seminars are one way to increase membership, but beyond that the national charity is in the process of a brand and supporter Review, which the national Chairman, Peter Waine, will update you on shortly. It will lead to a membership campaign, but one thing I would mention now is that our President wrote letters to people he knows whom he thought would be interested in CPRE and simply invited them to join. He had a 20% success rate, which is very high.
Would you be willing to do the same? We have proforma letters available in the Office for your use.
Our new Structure
So, what about our structure and organisation?
It has been well covered in Hampshire Views, so I will not dwell on it, but we have taken the opportunity of the advent of the South Downs National Park and the South Hampshire Sub-Region to create a new South Downs & Central Group. And a South Hampshire Group covering a different geographical area.
These will be 'virtual' groups, operating mainly by email and without the usual District Group committee structure or regular committee meetings, as the evidence is that these do not attract people. We have approached people directly to ask them to support their new Group, and in the South Downs & Central Group we now have over 30 people signed on as volunteers to help with a particular issue or campaign, when asked. Many of these also have defined roles, such as strategic planning, development control, eyes and ears, transport, fly-tipping, climate change, events management, publicity and so on.
The Leader of the South Downs & Central Group is Camilla Swiderska. The Leader of the South Hampshire Groups is Caroline Dibden.
I am very hopeful that this model will be very successful, so that we can take it to other Districts and so renew our volunteer base.
Changes at Branch Office
Sadly, we said goodbye to Pam Mason at the end of May. Always popular with all of us, we all know the great work she has done over the last few years, despite health setbacks, in oiling the wheels of the Branch, keeping the show on the road, and planning and running events - always strongly supported by her husband Chris. She very well deserved the CPRE Countryside Medal which I presented to her at her leaving lunch.
But now we must move on, and I am delighted to welcome our new Director Anthony McEwen, who comes to us from the Royal Navy, where he achieved the rank of Captain, then some time spent in business, and latterly seven years at Fairbridge - a charity set up to help disadvantaged youngsters from inner cities. He lives in Soberton, is passionate about the countryside, and is a keen fly fisherman. So, he brings splendid commitment and experience to us, and has accepted (perhaps unwisely) a challenge to take us to a new level. I am sure we all wish him the very best in doing so, and will give him our strong support, -even if it does mean some changes to the way we have become accustomed to do things.
The office is also joined by Jo George, to work on our databases and finances. Welcome Jo.
Our thanks go also to Becky French, who has held the fort nobly during Pam's enforced absences, and come forward with many initiatives at the same time Well done Becky.
This leaves outstanding the matter of a new Chairman. I was asked to take up the reins of the Chairmanship again, but accepted on the basis that the search for a new Chairman must continue. Our President has tried hard on our behalf, but it is not easy to find the right person who is willing to take it on. The hunt goes on, and if you have any ideas please let Brian or me know today.
Finally, it is my duty and pleasure, as always in my Review of the year, to thank our volunteers for their wonderful work during the year. As I always say, without our volunteers the Branch would be nothing. But it is also true!
This is the transcript of the talk given at CPRE Hampshire's AGM in June 2010.
This page last updated 4th February 2011.
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