Manifestos for the countryside – or hot air?

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By Tom Fyans
3rd December 2019

Whether it’s getting their hands dirty planting trees, picking litter or promising to support more environmentally friendly farming, general election candidates have been keen to demonstrate their countryside credentials this election, says CPRE’s deputy chief executive Tom Fyans.

Candidates are showing some promising fervour around environmental issues. Some days on the campaign trail have seen parties trying to outdo each other on tree planting pledges – all very welcome! But are their promises going to really enhance, promote and protect the countryside we love?

Climate emergency

This is probably the most important election to ever take place in terms of addressing the climate emergency, with only a decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change – the biggest single threat to our countryside. So we are proud that we helped ensure Thursday night’s first dedicated leaders debate on climate and nature anywhere in the world.

But how will we actually get to net-zero carbon? Each manifesto promises slightly different targets, but what is most important is urgent action. Whether your target is 2030, 2050 or somewhere in between, the next government must urgently implement measures to cut carbon across transport, land use, housing and energy, regardless of the target date.

Green Belt and planning

We’ve seen promises to protect the Green Belt in manifestos for many years, but this time the main parties have listened to CPRE’s message that we need to go one better and start working to enhance what is effectively the countryside next door for 30 million people. That means more and better space to breathe, relax, grow food, and better access to enjoy nature so that all can share in the benefits of a day in the countryside.

Perhaps in a nod to the cross-party report on the benefits the Green Belt brings to Londoners, there are positive commitments on this from the Green Party, Labour and Conservatives, finally recognising Green Belts as a crucial resource in tackling the climate emergency and for boosting the health and wellbeing of city dwellers.

Where they fall short, perhaps, is in how local authorities and planners will actually be empowered to make this a reality. The planning system is supposed to empower communities, and all parties need to do more to ensure local government can meet local need whilst also addressing the climate emergency in all planning decisions.

The homes we need

Speaking of local need, CPRE has called for a lot more money to build more homes for social rent, with a fair share going to rural areas where people are priced out of their home towns and villages. The Liberal Democrats, Greens and Labour have risen to this challenge, promising investment to build at least 100,000 new social homes a year. There isn’t a clear commitment to new money from the Conservatives, perhaps their Social Housing White Paper will provide more details, but for now, this is a disappointing oversight.

The manifestos this year are replete with big promises and large numbers, the test for the next government will be to turn grand schemes into reality. To get hundreds of millions of trees in the ground. To make sure the social homes are built in the right places. To get homeowners to retrofit, insulate and put in new boilers. To get more people using public transport.

When the election dust settles, we will be making sure all the promises are kept and turned into action – our countryside and the planet can’t wait any longer.

Climate protestors
Protesters at the global climate strike in 2019