Annual Review 2010-11
A Period of Change and Uncertainty
Christopher Napier, Chairman CPRE
As presented at Annual General Meeting 12 May 2011
In terms of government we now live in a period of change and uncertainty. We have what CPRE sees as a positive move towards people having more say in the future of their area through localism and neighbourhood planning, and we are seeing the removal of top down driven damaging and unrealistic targets through abolishment of Regional Spatial Strategies and other regional structures.
This potentially reinforces the place of the Local Plan within a plan led system, which is good from our perspective, although we accept the need for effective arrangements to provide cross border infrastructure.
Using our Charter for Planning Reform (PDF - opens in new window), we have made quite a lot of progress over the last year in ensuring our voice in heard within CLG as the planning reforms are developed.
Yet in the recent Budget statement we now have planning being castigated as the greatest obstacle to economic development and growth. It is all very confusing, to put it mildly.
Nor is it correct. 85% of all planning applications are successful and those that fail do so in almost all cases for good reasons to do with the impact on the environment, amenity, sustainability, poor design and so forth. Developers are quite capable of coming up with applications that are, quite frankly, hopeless from the start, due of lack thought and understanding.
Much emphasis is put by the Chancellor on the problems of the construction industry, yet the truth is that in 2009, the date of latest figures, the seven biggest house builders had at least outline planning permission on 272,000 plots but started to only build on 87,500 of these. The conclusion has to be that the problems lie elsewhere than the planning system.
Planning: Environment vs. Economic Growth
Of course, success of rural businesses is something we support as part of a vibrant countryside, and is an important element of our Vision for the Countryside 2026. We do need to understand the pressures rural businesses face, including in the planning arena, and we need to give support where development is appropriate.
True, the advent of a box-ticking mentality has affected many areas of government, and has arguably resulted in the planning system becoming somewhat over bureaucratic in recent years, and it is always open to being improved.
But it still has an absolutely vital place in our society, in protecting our countryside and natural environment, in promoting democracy and accountability, and in resolving the inevitable conflicts between that any significant development gives rise to, and some red tape will always be necessary to make it work.
And so, the concept proclaimed in the budget statement that the environment must always give way to economic growth is alarming. If seriously implemented, it would undermine everything that CPRE has fought for the last 80 years and is one that we will have to fight tooth and nail as need be. It has already been cited by WCC in relation to the Sainsbury's application at Bishop's Waltham as reason for overriding local concerns. We are establishing better links with our local MPs, and will be using these to express our serious concerns.
Better news is that CPRE has been awarded a grant of £620,000 each year for the next two years to share with the National Association of Local Councils to further better understanding by the public of the planning system and engage more with it - something of an accolade for CPRE, I think. It will be a great opportunity for us, yet will not stop us openly campaigning for our values in the face of attack, and that has been made very clear to CLG, who will provide the money.
I am sure we will see some of that new money here in Hampshire in the coming months, and it will provide a big opportunity for us to engage more with our communities and recruit new members.
And we have already been taken the lead on neighbourhood planning with parish councils through our successful seminar for Parish Councillors last November, and follow up email communications. We will be holding another such seminar this year, and we are promoting the CPRE invented local landscape character assessments as a vital part of neighbourhood planning. They have the support of Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority and we can hope they will be taken up across the county.
Indeed, localism and neighbourhood planning was identified at our Strategy Day in February, attended by some 30 members and volunteers, as an area of real opportunity for us in terms of extending our influence, reaching out to the public, recruitment and fundraising, and working in partnership with other bodies. The CPRE grant will only assist this.
It fits well with the conclusion of the Strategy Day that what we need to be if we are to succeed in our objectives is a county wide organisation of influence and impact, within local government and voluntary organisations: and that this can be progressed by working in partnership with governmental, commercial and voluntary organisations.
And it is in terms of working in partnership and relationships with others that we have perhaps seen the greatest change in the last year, led by our energetic and committed Director, Anthony McEwen, who does not stand back from selling CPRE Hampshire to any who will listen. He has had considerable success, with more to come we hope.
So we now have active partnership arrangements and relationships:
- With the Country Land and Business Association, the National Farmers Union, and the Environment Agency, in our anti-Fly Tipping project led by CPRE Hampshire
- With the Test & Itchen Association, Vitacress Conservation Trust and Southampton University in a joint study designed to identify the key factors in phosphate pollution of Hampshire's internationally-important chalk streams.
- With commercial organisations such as Steves Leaves, (about which you will hear more later) sponsoring our annual Countryside and Design awards, Veolia Recycling sponsoring our Newsletter, CW Fellows and Knight Frank sponsoring parts of our Opera Event, and now a budding relationship with Tarmac.
- We now have regular contact with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and are engaging with the Hampshire Gardens Trust, Hampshire Fare and Hampshire Ambassadors.
- Then, of course, we have our longstanding relationships with Parish Councils on planning applications, but these have moved into a more active mode, through the anti fly-tipping project, the sustainable transport toolkit pilot, and neighbourhood planning where our relationship with HATPC is increasingly important.
- And of course our, on the whole, good relationships with District Councils, the County Council and now the South Downs National Park Authority, and important relationships with conservation trusts, including a new relationship with the Shona Gosling Trust established by our President.
Another outcome of the Strategy Day was that the key to future success and financial stability lies in increasing our membership. Membership is crucial to our credibility, income stream and, in fact, our very existence. Shortly some 650 so-called 'regular givers' to National Office who live in Hampshire will become members of the Branch and give a real boost to our membership figures, to the benefit of our credibility and seeking sponsorship for projects. We also hope that very many of them will opt in for an active relationship with the Branch, which National Office will be tempting them to do, using a significant budget provided for the job.
However this boost in numbers will bring little money with it and the trend in recent years has been one of decline in membership income, in common with most NGOs (Non-governmentalk organisations). But recent months have shown improvement in recruitment of new members, and indeed Hampshire is second only to Kent in the CPRE league tables for 2011, so far.
We can hope this demonstrates that we are getting towards the end of the period of decline in membership, but I must emphasise that even this increase in new members is not yet sufficient to turn the tide and we have to do better yet in our recruitment work.
There are a number of factors which give us a special opportunity for successful recruitment over the next year or so:
- We have new national branding, logo and website which we will hear more about later, and which must help our profile
- We have a really good new branch website and leaflet (PDF) found on your chair, thanks largely to the work of Becky French
- National Office is to give up recruiting Regular Givers and concentrate entirely on recruiting new members, again with a significant budget. The aim is to work in partnership with the field in recruiting. Surely this must have a positive impact on recruitment figures
- At the same time, CPRE will move to a new membership offering which focuses on direct debit and with automatic annual renewal, which will hopefully reduce loss rate
- And here in Hampshire we are working with Knight Frank on a "welcome to Hampshire" package for selected home purchasers, which will promote the work of CPRE and promote membership.
So, there is a new era dawning for recruitment and we now need an active recruitment campaign here in Hampshire.
The Strategy Day said we need to focus on making best use of personal contacts, our new leaflet and logo, and working in partnership with National Office. Our president had a 20% success rate, claiming 15 new members, when he wrote to friends and simply asked then to join. Could you do the same? There is a template letter available. Anthony McEwen and Caroline Dibden have had small parties for invited friends, including a short presentation by Anthony, with considerable success in gaining new members.
Something we have today to help us in recruitment is the CPRE Vision for the Countryside 2026 (PDF). This gives us a very positive stance in our discussions with individuals and local communities - to dispel any negative image of CPRE - and also provides a forward looking framework.
The Vision also gives us opportunities for profile raising in presentations. Evidence shows these really do hold peoples' interest, and persuade some to become members. Anthony, I and others are willing to do the actual presentation if you will get us the opportunities. What about your local amenity societies, parish meetings, U3A, WI and so on.
Our Organisation Structure
So, is our structure for this purpose? The Strategy Day affirmed that there is a natural affinity of members to their local areas, so Districts continue to be important: but at the same time we need to be flexible in our structure and make best use of technology. We need to have District Groups that are attractive and encourage people to become active - to whatever extent they wish.
The experiment of having a so-called virtual group in the new South Downs & Central area, shown here, has been a considerable success. As said, this is a 'virtual' group, 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 approached directly on the phone people known to us to ask them to support their new Group, and in SD&CG we now have over 40 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. I am hopeful that we can take this model to other Districts and renew our volunteer base.
However, one serious shortcoming in our County structure still remains, and that is the almost complete absence of CPRE coverage in the New Forest. We really do need someone to come forward and get things going in the New Forest, with the support of by the Branch Office.
South Downs National Park
Perhaps the most enduring of our achievements is the South Downs National Park, which came into existence on 31st March 2010. To remind you, 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.
Let us be very clear that without CPRE Hampshire and our volunteers, leading our allies, it is quite possible that we would not have this new national park. Almost certainly the Western Weald, 25% of the national park and containing some of the most beautiful countryside, would have been left out. To my mind this was a quite outstanding, and truly historic, success for CPRE Hampshire.
The South Downs National Park Authority became operational on 1 April and has now become the planning authority for the whole national park area. However, by way of experiment initially for 3 years, the existing District Councils will decide on behalf of the NPA all planning applications other than those considered to be 'significant' in the context of national park purposes. About 150 of some 4000 annual applications in the national park area are likely to be 'significant' and will be called in for decision by the Planning Committee of the NPA itself.
Beyond planning, the first step for the NPA is to develop a Management Plan for the whole national park area. This process is now starting and is designed to allow for a high degree of participation by local communities, local residents and local businesses. CPRE Hampshire will be actively participating in this process, directly and via our membership of the new South Downs Network - a network of environmental organisations which has been formed out of the SDC and is designed to influence the NPA.
When we had the SE Plan as the driving force, we were faced with a development plan requirement for substantial housing development, including a new town north of Fareham, another new town at Hedge End, and large housing developments at Romsey, Basingstoke and north of Winchester. These are some of the pressure areas shown on the map in our new leaflet (PDF - opens in new window; or click on map left for an enlarged view).
Now the SE Plan is gone, or very nearly so, the new town at Hedge End has bitten the dust, and we have been very active in campaigning for review of the Fareham new town, shown here, which we have long opposed as an unnecessary despoiler of fine countryside between Wickham and Fareham; and where we are co-ordinating local groups and parish councils, led by Caroline Dibden. The next step is to appear at an Examination in Public next week.
Aside from the Fareham new town, we need to protect the bands of countryside to the north of the urban areas in South Hampshire, and we are working on options here, including possible use of the new green designation proposed by the Government, and even a new Green Belt. This work is being led by Alan Drinkwater.
And we have been actively supporting the Save Barton Farm Group in the current appeal by Cala Homes against WCCs refusal to grant consent to development for 200 houses at Barton Farm, north of Winchester, which in our view would be an unnecessary development on an important green wedge leading into the City which is protected by policy in the Local Plan. There was a public inquiry in February in which Chris Slattery paid a crucial role and I gave evidence on behalf of CPRE Hampshire. If this latest appeal fails then the future of the Barton Farm should no longer be dictated from above and will be in the hands of WCC and their emerging LDF, which is where it should be.
Clearly it cannot be right that you get a new national park and then stick 565 houses in the middle of it to meet national housing targets, on sites extending straight into sensitive countryside. But that is exactly what would have happened at Petersfield on the so-called reserve sites, but for CPRE Hampshire again leading our allies such as the Petersfield Society.
After much work to get the national park taken onboard the current situation is that planning applications on each of the sites have been turned down, by unanimous vote of EHDC, supported by the SDNPA. So, hard work and classic CPRE campaigning has brought another significant success for CPRE Hampshire.
But we do support housing development of the right design in the right places, especially affordable housing. Notably we have been supporting the eco-town at Whitehill-Bordon, and have been actively participating in the development of the Masterplan.
What we really need is engagement with communities in a process to let local people have a meaningful say in how much housing is really needed in their area, and where it should go. One such debate is now starting at Petersfield, and we are taking part in that. We also participated in the recent Winchester CC Blueprint consultation.
Sticking to our guns because we knew we were right brought another success. This was in the battle over a proposal to increase aircraft movements by 79% at Farnborough Airport, led by Hugh Sheppard. The additional flights would be mainly business flights, with very few passengers on each flight, and so particularly extravagant in terms of emissions - by 2019, the increase in emissions would be equivalent to a town of 30,000 people.
Rushmoor Council 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.
However, the Inspector on appeal decided to ignore this legal judgment and based his conclusions on the Aviation White Paper of 2003. The Ministers for Aviation and Communities adopted his recommendation, despite clear coalition recognition that the 2003 White Paper is out of date. Not a soundly based decision I would suggest to you.
On balance, however, we decided that to raise a challenge in the High Court without the support of Rushmoor Borough Council would be ill-advised. Instead, we plan to work on our response to the ongoing consultation on 'Developing a Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation' to replace the 2003 White Paper. We could not help but to notice that in his introduction to this consultation the Minister labelled the 2003 White Paper as "fundamentally out of date because it fails to give sufficient weight to the challenge of climate change".
We often hear of grand transport projects such as HS2, but people who live and work in the countryside are often left with limited choices for getting from A to B. CPRE want to address that problem and is developing a national Transport Toolkit that will equip local people to implement sustainable local transport projects in their own communities. It comes at a time when rural bus services are facing big cuts while the cost of driving continues to rise.
Before it is launched nationally, aspects of the Toolkit are being piloted in two locations in Hampshire, namely Medstead/Four Marks and Horndean. Camilla Swiderska is providing practical support to these two communities to put the Toolkit into action, and the good publicity that this will attract will strengthen the project momentum in the rest of the county when the Toolkit is rolled out nationally.
Flytipping and Litter
Our farmers and landowners, and indeed 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 fly-tip a tonne or so of construction waste, or worse.
So, it is really pleasing that CPRE Hampshire is leading in this area, working in partnership with the NFU, CLA, Environment Agency, East Hampshire DC and 12 parish councils in East Hampshire in a fly tipping reporting and analysis project. The reporters are volunteers from CPRE Hampshire, NFU and CLA within the 12 parishes, and are known as "fly-spotters". There are 95 of them.
This project has shown how projects can lever in finance to support staff costs. About £7,000; has been secured in grants for this project, which allowed us to employ a project officer to set up the project, and subsequently has contributed to staff costs in the office.
We have also given financial support to litter projects around the county.
All of which supports the national Stop the Drop campaign led by our national president Bill Bryson.
Consultations and Communications
We responded to the consultation on the natural environment White Paper, supporting responses by National Office, but adding specific comment and evidence relating to Hampshire. National Office staff have had a series of meetings with Ministers, along with RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts to follow up and discuss the forthcoming White Paper, and there has been good reception for CPREs views.
We have also recently responded to consultation on the Hampshire Minerals and Waste Plan, and were gearing ourselves up on the Forests issue when it went away (for the moment).
On the Media front, Keren Burney has been much involved in the Fareham new town campaign with considerable success in getting our message across to a wider audience, and we are now in negotiation with Hampshire Life magazine (circulation about 12,000) to carry a 2 page article each month, authored by CPRE Hampshire.
I will leave our Treasurer to deal with the state of our finances but, essentially, we have a large gap to fill this year between our income and expenditure now that we have Anthony McEwen and Jo George on board, -in addition to Becky French working full time - and we also now need to pay rent, service charges and other expenses at Bridgett's Farm.
So it is crucial that the Opera Event on July 10 at Bedales is a great success - as an event, in terms of the funds it raises for us, and as the precursor to an annual fundraising event. There is potential to raise £10,000 this year and on an annual basis. A lot of hard work has gone into its planning, especially by Anthony, and I have already mentioned some of the sponsorship he has obtained.
It now needs our full support and commitment to fill every one of the 357 seats in the house. It will be a great evening, I am sure, in a wonderful location in the new SDNP, and the opera is being performed in a purpose built theatre which has won many awards. Please bring a party if you are not already doing so; or at least yourselves.
And there is also the Open Garden at Ashley Manor, Kings Somborne on Sunday 19 June.
If you are an online shopper, another very simple way of helping CPRE Hampshire is to do your online shopping through Give as you Live, which ensures a percentage of your purchase cost goes to CPRE Hampshire.
Thanks to Staff and Volunteers
Our staff are vital to our success and influence, and I would like to pay particular tribute to Anthony, who is very actively taking us forward in many ways, some of which I have mentioned.
And Becky, of course, who deals so well and effectively with the many people in touch with the office on a daily basis, and who never loses her cool whatever the provocation. And who just recently accepted a proposal of marriage on a sandy beach in the Caribbean.
And Jo, who gets on with some of the less glamorous, but yet essential, work of the Branch in a highly efficient way.
Finally, it is my duty and pleasure, as always, to thank our volunteers for their wonderful work during the year. Without our volunteers the Branch would be nothing.
This page last updated 4th June 2011.
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