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Sir Andrew Motion on his hopes for CPRE

Sir Andrew Motion makes his inaugural speech as CPRE President Sir Andrew Motion makes his inaugural speech as CPRE President © Nigel Keene

Becoming CPRE President is one of the great honours of my life. And also one of the great opportunities, because it allows me to speak in public about several of my deepest lifelong commitments. And also one of the great responsibilities, because what we have to protect together is so profoundly precious, and so vulnerable.

Andrew Motion's speech


I praise Bill Bryson for the work he has done for CPRE during the past five years. Really, his spokesmanship and devotion has been wonderfully impressive, as we can see by thinking about the success of his campaign against littering, and by his role in the creation of the South Downs National Park, and the inclusion of the western Weald within it. He is a very hard act to follow. But of course hard acts to follow are also inspirations, and that is the spirit in which I take up his torch, or put on his mantle, or whatever image seems appropriate.

In a paradoxical way, I think you’ll agree that Bill’s being an American, an Iowan, helps to sharpen his eye for things in England, and so enriched his work for you. If I have sharp eyes for similar beauties, and similar values, it’s for almost opposite reasons - because I was raised in the countryside nearby.

A key concern of my Presidency will be the need to protect the countryside, while at the same time encouraging the largest possible number of people from the widest imaginable range of backgrounds to feel a part of it – to enjoy it, to admire it, to be sustained by it, and to share the responsibility for looking after it. Through knowledge comes understanding, and through understanding comes involvement. It is for this reason that CPRE needs to become even more broadly-based, even more diverse, even more energetic in our promotion of rural England as being a delight for everyone. And especially enthusiastic in our promotion of schemes that encourage young people to get involved.

This emphasis, this reconciliation of protection with access, will be the cornerstone of my Presidency. And what else? There are three particular issues that strike me most powerfully, and here are my initial feelings about them:

High speed 2
If we regard this proposal as an opportunity to generate a renaissance in the railways in England, and in the process to reduce the need for more roads and runways, then we can see it as something to welcome. But with a colossal proviso. Which is of course that the building of the line is done in a way that pays absolutely proper attention and respect to all the attendant questions of local disturbance, noise pollution, and harm to wildlife and habitats. CPRE has already given advice to government on these issues. If that advice is ignored, if the attendant questions are dodged, if there is no accompanying country-wide investment in rail services, if the whole business becomes a question of getting business-people to Birmingham 20 minutes sooner than they do already, no matter what the consequences, then we have a fight on our hands. I sincerely hope it won’t come to that, but I’m ready for it if it happens.

Wind Turbines
There are complex balances to strike. It’s obvious to everyone that we need to find sources of clean energy (and should be obvious that we also need to reduce the demand for energy overall, and to make greater efficiencies everywhere). But none of us want to see the means of establishing such things become a blight themselves. Treating the construction of turbines, and turbine-clusters, on a case by case basis as we are doing at the moment, seems much the most sensible approach to a very difficult issue. It’s one that requires continual vigilance, and very firm ideas of what is not and is acceptable, and a great deal of facilitating so that individual communities feel involved with decisions that affect them.

Planning laws
We must be particularly grateful for the influence CPRE exerted on the Government’s review of the planning system – the principal method by which we can all protect the countryside. Thanks to their campaign, proposals which would have over half of rural England at the mercy of developers were strengthened to respect plans agreed by local people while encouraging the reuse of derelict sites, protection of tranquil areas and reduction of light pollution.

Crucially, the final document also recognised the intrinsic character and beauty of all countryside – a tribute perhaps to the weight of letters Ministers and MPs received from thousands of passionate CPRE members who value their local green space as much as their National Parks. The fact that so many of our longstanding goals are now enshrined in Government policy is a really distinguished achievement, but we remain vigilant, lest these gains are undermined or overthrown. The same sort of continual vigilance, I might add, that will be required for other matters that concern the structure of the countryside in general: affordable rural housing, rural jobs, post offices, village shops… .

Like others at CPRE I’m deeply concerned about the big picture. And to reinforce that, let me say that I see all these large subjects as part of an even more enormous concern - which is the greatest concern of our time. Climate change. I understand, of course, that there is a broad range of opinion about the precise causes and probable effects of climate change. But I do not accept that this diversity of opinion should be a reason for denying the fact of change. Or for slackening the pace of an international response.

I have no doubt that I shall be banging this drum again, in the months and years to come. But I well understand how big pictures depend on particular details. On litter campaigns. On the protection of our hedges. On campaigns about light pollution. On supporting farmers as the custodians of much of our landscape. These and other such concerns are vital too; we undermine ourselves if we do not properly balance the range and type of our commitment to protection at the CPRE.

Sir Andrew Motion
President, CPRE

Taken from Sir Andrew's speech to CPRE's AGM, 28 June 2012, and his introduction to CPRE's Annual Review 2011/12

Read the second part of the speech - My rural roots by Sir Andrew Motion

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