2011 - 2020: from saving our forests to facing down fracking
Starting with resistance to the proposed sell-off of the country’s forests, we had a busy decade promoting affordable housing and getting use of brownfield land for new homes back on the agenda. We led the successful push for a commitment to a deposit return scheme and as part of our work on climate change helped put a moratorium on fracking. We also saw a long campaign on extending national park coverage to protect the connection between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District.
In the face of the proposed sale of our public forest estate, CPRE warned against losing the benefits of well-managed, accessible woodland. Before the threat of a ‘sell-off’ became a national media story, CPRE Gloucestershire volunteers concerned about the Forest of Dean were lobbying for the removal of a clause in the Public Bodies Bill which would have given the secretary of state sweeping powers to sell publicly owned forests.
CPRE President Bill Bryson issued a statement of support for their campaign against privatisation. He was also the lead signature on the Save England’s Forest open letter that influenced the government U-turn that left our public forests in the hands of the nation.
Network Rail cleared 130 sites of litter, fly-tipping and graffiti across its 30,000-mile network. This was in response to CPRE’s legal challenge to them to address their responsibility to clear trackside litter. Over 400 Network Rail staff were involved and 1,000 tonnes of rubbish was cleared.
In his final speech as CPRE President, Bill Bryson countered the view that the countryside isn’t utilised enough. ‘I believe what the countryside is needed for is what it is providing already: beauty, and greenery, and fresh air, and vistas that lift the spirit.’
Our 5-year research project to map local food webs culminated in our From field to fork report. It showed that local food outlets across England serve an estimated 16.3 million customers a week, contributing £2.7 billion a year to the economy. These retailers support over 100,000 jobs, of which over 61,000 are wholly reliant on local food sales.
After almost a decade of CPRE campaigning for dark skies our concerns were reflected in national planning policy for the first time. Local councils were explicitly encouraged to reduce light pollution through good design.
CPRE’s work to support communities in local planning delivered over 110 planning events in 33 counties. This enabled 237 town and parish councils to initiate a neighbourhood plan. We distributed over 77,000 guides to the planning system and 260,000 visits were made to CPRE’s Planning Help website to access neighbourhood planning advice. Thanks to our direct support over 30 community groups made a start on producing neighbourhood plans to protect and enhance their areas.
Government agency Natural England used CPRE data to assess the quality of experience for visitors to England’s 159 ‘character areas’. For the first time, their comprehensive profiles recognised tranquillity and visual intrusion – defined and mapped by CPRE – as having a key influence on landscape character and our enjoyment of it.
We achieved a major success in securing Ofgem’s agreement to allow the National Grid to spend up to £500 million on reducing the visual intrusion of electricity transmission on National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Our lobbying led to a design panel for HS2 to reduce its impact on the landscape. This was announced by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin at CPRE’s annual lecture.
We launched the Save our Countryside charter calling for better protection for the countryside, a fair say for local communities in planning decisions and more sustainable and affordable housing. The charter became our most popular online action. Over 80,000 people signed up, including MPs from across the political spectrum.
CPRE coordinated the launch of the UK Deposit Alliance at the British Library. Speakers from across Europe highlighted how putting a small deposit on drinks containers increases recycling revenue and quality, creates jobs and eradicates litter. The event unveiled results from a comprehensive pilot project in Catalonia, preliminary findings from eight pilot projects in Scotland, and evidence of the success of the scheme in Germany after 10 years in operation.
Thanks to CPRE’s charter campaign, planning minister Nick Boles reminded planning inspectors of the ‘importance and permanence of green belt’ and launched new planning guidance to ‘stress the importance of bringing brownfield land into use’ and ‘promote brownfield regeneration’.
The charter also persuaded chancellor George Osborne to reverse plans to build on the green belt. Instead he pledged to ‘remove all the obstacles that remain to development on brownfield sites’ to preserve the countryside as ‘part of the inheritance of the next generation.’
We joined Greenpeace, the National Trust and the RSPB in a joint letter to The Times to ‘share grave concerns about the threats fracking poses to the countryside and climate, and about the government’s promotion of shale gas’. The letter added that all four groups believe ‘we need a serious debate about safeguards before we consider drilling for shale gas’.
Our From wasted spaces to living places report showed that there is enough brownfield land in England to provide 1 million homes. The research was part of a Waste of Space campaign that had encouraged members of the public to submit local derelict sites suitable for housing. By 2015, the campaign convinced the government to fund 10 brownfield housing zones and launch land commissions to speed up urban regeneration in Manchester and London.
Waste of Space was subsequently shortlisted as one of the top three ‘environment and conservation’ campaigns of 2015 at the prestigious Charity Awards. By 2016, the government doubled their brownfield fund to over £2bn and agreed to our demands for ‘brownfield registers’ to be reintroduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
CPRE promoted the ‘undergrounding’ of overheard powerlines in our finest landscapes. This led to National Grid’s announcement of three major projects – in the New Forest and Peak District National Parks, and the Dorset AONB. CPRE were part of an expert panel that allocated a £500m fund, secured after many years of CPRE research and lobbying.
Our first annual Green Belt Under Siege report revealed plans for over 219,000 homes in green belts around cities which contained enough brownfield sites to meet local housing need.
A 5p charge on plastic bags came into force after a three-year campaign led by CPRE, as part of the Break the Bag Habit coalition, to reduce waste and litter. The charge reduced the number of plastic bags handed out by over 7 billion (leading to a long-term reduction of 80%). It also raised £29 million for good causes in its first six months.
After an 18-month campaign, we delivered our Charter to Save our Countryside to 10 Downing Street. More than 80,000 members of the public had signed the charter, alongside MPs of all parties, leading environmentalists, architects, artists, writers and broadcasters. This made it the best-supported campaign action in CPRE’s history. The charter’s calls for planning reforms helped popularise the idea of ‘the right homes in the right places’ within government, which would help CPRE influence subsequent policies and legislation.
More than 30 public figures – including Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham – signed a letter to The Times in support of CPRE’s Our Green Belt campaign. This celebrated the 60th anniversary of green belts becoming national policy. The campaign invited people to celebrate the beauty and wellbeing benefits of these landscapes, and was supported by the likes of Ray Mears and Dame Fiona Reynolds.
A long CPRE campaign led by the Friends of the Lake District finally convinced the government to extend the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. New boundaries incorporated 470 square kilometres of outstanding scenery originally excluded due to a technicality. This gave permanent protection to the landscape and boosted the rural economy in these areas.
Our Rural Reconnections report showed how reopening railways would boost local economies and be a lifeline for isolated communities. This influenced the government’s late-2019 decision to fund work to reverse the ‘Beeching cuts’ of the 1960s.
CPRE led the campaign for the Infrastructure Act 2015 to include a duty to invest in walking and cycling – with a fair share of funding for rural areas. This led to the publication of the UK’s first ever Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy in 2017. This included £1bn funding for greener travel options and incorporated CPRE’s ambition to make rural roads safer for walkers and cyclists.
Our Housing Foresight discussion papers helped ensure that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 allowed housing associations to reserve homes on ‘rural exception sites’ as permanently affordable housing for local people, and ruled out the forced sale of council homes in designated landscapes.
We published our New Model Farming report after the EU referendum. It showed how new policies could help all farms prosper and allow the public to benefit from beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife and better flood management. Our lobbying was vindicated in January 2018 when the government outlined that future farm support would be based on the delivery of public benefits, such as planting woodland, improving soil health and increasing public access. This principle was then enshrined in 2020’s Agriculture Bill.
Our Waste of Space, Green Belt Under Siege and Housing Foresight campaigns influenced the publication of a housing white paper, Fixing the broken housing market. It backed our calls to protect the green belt, prioritise brownfield sites and support the provision of affordable housing.
In the words of Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, our Night Blight campaign maps encouraged ‘remedial efforts that will not only save energy, but also enable more of us to enjoy a dark sky in the way earlier generations could’. The initiative also convinced Tata Steel – whose Rotherham foundry was the brightest spot in England – to commit to move to less polluting lighting. Night Blight was shortlisted for Campaign of the Year in the prestigious Environmental Data Services Awards 2017.
Our ongoing Stop the Drop campaign helped persuade the government to launch the UK’s first-ever National Litter Strategy. Our evidence also helped convince the Environmental Audit Committee to recommend that the UK government should introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
Our Uncertain Harvest report made the case for extra government support for the small, family farms that are important for the communities and character of rural England. In May 2018, the government responded by stating its intention ‘to give smaller family farms adequate time to prepare for the future and to support them in doing so’.
Ahead of the November 2017 Budget, reliable sources suggested that the then Chancellor Philip Hammond would try to boost the housing market by allowing green belts to be built on. A record number of CPRE letters – over 10,000, reaching all 533 English MPs – helped build up the parliamentary pressure for a U-turn. The Budget speech focused on ‘making best use of our urban land, and continuing the strong protection of our green belt.’
Our landmark 2017 research report, The End of the Road, reinvigorated the environmental and economic case against new roads. The research inspired a coalition of environmental NGOs, including CPRE, to call for roads funding to prioritise a ‘green retrofit’ of existing routes and improve rail, cycling and walking infrastructure.
Our Beauty Betrayed report found that over 15,000 homes had been approved within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the past five years,. This prompted our calls for AONBs to be given stronger protection from housing developments of more than 10 units. We therefore welcomed the government’s 2018 proposals that such schemes be defined as ‘major development’, requiring ‘exceptional circumstances’ to secure planning permission.
We had a major influence on the government’s long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan. It spoke of ‘using our land more sustainably’ and the importance of the green belt as ‘breathing space for our urban populations to enjoy’.
Our joint research report with Shelter, Viable Villages, showed how a planning loophole was allowing developers to reduce the delivery of rural affordable homes by 48%. The prime minister immediately pledged to ‘end abuse of the “viability assessment” process’ and ‘make it much harder for unscrupulous developers to dodge their obligation to build homes local people can afford’. The policy changes to deliver this were subsequently included in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Our Planning for People campaign to influence the revised NPPF also succeeded in reinstating the ‘highest status of protection’ for National Parks and AONBs, maintained green belt protections and reinstated ‘social housing’ within the definition of affordable housing.
CPRE President Emma Bridgewater co-signed a letter to The Times with her predecessors Andrew Motion, Max Hastings, Jonathan Dimbleby and David Puttnam. They urged environment secretary Michael Gove to announce a mandatory deposit return scheme for all bottles and cans or risk allowing the UK to ‘become “the dirty man of Europe” once more’. The government immediately confirmed that a deposit return scheme ‘will be introduced subject to consultation’. We also succeeded in winning a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds, due to come into force in 2020.
We were delighted that our submissions helped to influence the independent Landscapes review report to government. It agreed that Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be given more funding and a greater say over development.
The report also agreed that a more diverse range of people should be helped to access awe-inspiring countryside. This was prompted by CPRE research showing that National Parks and AONBs are not within easy reach of almost half of England’s most deprived areas. We particularly welcomed the recommendation that every child should experience a ‘night under the stars’ in these landscapes, having demanded that the government make such life-changing trips part of the national curriculum.
CPRE’s Green Clean returned for a second year, supporting hundreds of volunteers remove over 10,000 bottles and cans from our green spaces. Their efforts provided important evidence on the need for a comprehensive deposit return system for drinks containers, with a quarter of bottles collected falling outside the scope of initial plans. The following month saw the government publish an Environment Bill that includes the powers to create a deposit return scheme. This was a major win for CPRE following more than 10 years of campaigning.
We celebrated the November 2019 moratorium on all new shale gas extraction as ‘a victory for communities, climate and common sense’, having warned that fracking would increase carbon emissions and industrialise the countryside. Our campaigning supported threatened communities and mobilised the public against plans to fast-track fracking. An influential national petition signed by 307,720 people included over 200,000 CPRE supporters.
The general election campaign saw CPRE’s call for more trees and hedgerows (to mitigate the impact of climate change and enhance the countryside) influence pledges from all parties to help achieve this.
The new government also accepted our challenge to commit to the protection of England’s green belts. This was influenced by our research highlighting plans to build 266,000 homes on the green belt and revealing that these homes typically use twice as much land as those built elsewhere.
CPRE also demolished the myth that building on the green belt can solve the affordability crisis. We revealed that just 13% of homes built on land removed from its protection in the past decade have been affordable. We were therefore pleased to see the Conservative Party manifesto not only commit to protecting the green belt, but pledge to enhance it by increasing accessibility and biodiversity.
January’s new Agriculture Bill was based on the kind of ‘new model farming’ CPRE has championed since 2016. Our lobbying helped ensure that the bill incorporates the principle of ‘public money for public goods’. This means funding for farmers based on the benefits they offer us all, whether producing environmentally sustainable food, maintaining public access or increasing biodiversity.
The bill also adopted CPRE’s specific demand that farmers should be rewarded for protecting or improving the soil that mitigates the impact of the climate crisis by absorbing floodwater and storing carbon. As the new payment schemes are developed, CPRE will be working to ensure smaller farmers, and those pioneering nature-friendly techniques, receive all the help they need to thrive.
CPRE helped coordinate the first-ever National Housing Design Audit, rating 140 schemes across England on design quality and sustainability. We concluded that developers must do much more to comply with design standards and energy-efficiency targets, while avoiding sprawling, car-dependent communities. The government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission took on board our recommendations that new developments must protect and enhance our built and natural environments. Meanwhile, the housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP announced plans for a ‘green revolution in housebuilding’ based on good design, higher densities and lower carbon emissions.
CPRE commissioned new research in the first attempt to score and rank the public transport options that are vital for rural communities. We found that nearly one million people in the north east and south west struggle to access buses and trains, while 56% of 160 country towns surveyed risk becoming ‘transport deserts’ cut off from basic services.
The project helped influence the government’s plans to spend £5bn on bus and cycling schemes ‘to make sure every community has the foundations it needs to thrive.’ We’re now calling for the creation of a dedicated rural transport fund, so that future investment has a real impact in connecting the countryside.
A March 2020 announcement set out government plans to encourage better use of previously developed land for housing through £400m of new funding and the creation of a national brownfield map. Both are the result of CPRE campaigns. They vindicate our research showing that recycling suitable brownfield sites can create a million new homes.
The same month saw the government’s Budget announcement include £12.2bn of funding for affordable homes. This came after earlier CPRE calls for investment as part of a coalition with Crisis and the National Housing Federation.