Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

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Johnson's countryside challenge

Johnson's countryside challenge Shutterstock

It has been quite a week in Westminster with two new party leaders and more comings and goings from Cabinet than most of us can keep up with. Brexit will be the political issue that defines Theresa May's legacy, and it’s too early to see how history will judge her on that.  However, on the issues that we particularly care about at CPRE there are some positive steps of which she can be proud, but many areas where Boris Johnson must now take action.

The government had started to turn the tide on social housing, with councils now able borrow in order to build thanks to Theresa May's decision to lift the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap last November. And for the first time since 2011, funding is available for social rent through Homes England’s Affordable Homes Programme. But her successor must invest even more in housing, with more than one million families currently on local authority waiting lists (including 170,000 rural households), and ensure that rural areas get a fair share of funding. 

There were some positive changes to the rules on viability assessments in the planning practice guidance introduced alongside the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last year. And we were especially glad to see the guidance stress that the price paid for land is not a valid justification for building fewer affordable homes. That said, we labelled the NPPF "a speculative developers' charter" 12 months ago, and incoming ministers must address the Housing Delivery Test which continues to take decision-making away from local councils - skewing the system towards meeting market demand instead of building the affordable homes communities need. 

The May government also made moves to improve new housing design. Since 2012 the impression has been that we have reverted back to the wasteful, bland and inefficient housing of the 1980s. We need to build many more new homes, but it is critical that they fit in with our beautiful countryside and use energy more efficiently. We’re looking at this in more detail with our housing design audit with University College London. We want the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission’s final report later this year to make strong recommendations to realise an improvement in design quality, and for ministers to then prioritise enacting the changes needed.

Beyond housing, CPRE's call for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be strengthened - with more funding and better protection - was adopted as an interim recommendation of the Glover review. The last few days of Michael Gove's time at Defra also saw some progress towards the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for singe use drinks containers. We have long argued that this is crucial to a litter free future and a step change in recycling behaviour, and recent YouGov polling found that 72% of people would support a UK-wide DRS for plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans. We’re keen Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers swiftly take up the strong mandate to finish the job and confirm that they will introduce a scheme that is truly ‘all in’.

Finally, responding to widespread public concern and climate activism, one of the last acts of Theresa May's premiership was to recognise that 'The Time Is Now' and legislate for a net-zero emissions target. The Johnson government must now promote meaningful action to reach this target through a strong Environment Bill, and ambitious measures to promote public money for public goods in the Agriculture Bill. It must also reject the previous administration's support for fast-tracked fracking - something that was entirely at odds with the declaration of a climate emergency.

So what can we expect from the new PM?  It’s still very early days, but it was interesting that in his very first address he chose to highlight two issues with a rural focus: broadband for all and improving rural schools.  Theresa May promised her government would "leave the environment in a better state than we found it" - Johnson must make that rhetoric a reality, if he is to consolidate his aspiration to make the UK "the greatest place to live".

26 July 2019

The May government took some positive steps for the countryside, but Boris Johnson must finish the job. 

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Hay field harvest

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