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"Ten things I've learned about CPRE" by Crispin Truman CPRE Chief Executive

Crispin Truman Crispin Truman

Ten Things and One Year at CPRE

I joined CPRE in September 2017 and have thoroughly enjoyed a year of getting to know everyone involved, understanding the policy world in which we operate, and learning about how we influence it.  All my thanks to everyone who has given me their time and attention, and particularly those many CPRE volunteers who have given me such a warm welcome in their local areas. 

I've gained a clear picture of the challenges we face and the opportunities which, if we take them, will allow us to reassert our vision and renew our impact in the 21stCentury.  Here is a 'top ten' of what I think I have learned in an action-packed year at CPRE:

1.    History is key CPRE has an amazing 92-year track record of achievement, from nation-changing legislation to practical action on hedgerows and litter. We are a charity whose appeal has spanned the political spectrum, from prime ministers of every hue to social reformers and frontline campaigners.  At a time when we are taking stock and refocussing in order to better communicate our vision and our work, it is to our founders' principles that we have increasingly looked for clarity and effect. 

2.    …and so is presenting ourselves and our work in a clearer and more attractive fashion Being new has allowed me to spend a lot of time visiting different parts of our national network and talking to a vast range of people from CPRE, and from our allies and relevant agencies in Government and the charity sector.  Nothing could be clearer from those conversations than the fact that the countryside and rural communities face almost unprecedented challenges - and  CPRE occupies a very important position with the potential to effect change - but that we are struggling to explain to the wider public how joining and supporting us can help them make a difference.    Almost everyone I've spoken to has affirmed that we have to refresh and renew how we articulate and present our work if we are to succeed.  Before I arrived, work had already begun on replacing some of the tools we need, nationally and locally, to communicate effectively with the public, and the Purpose Project has – importantly - taken that to a more fundamental level.  Underpinning everything, our new expression of Purpose repositions us as a positive, solution-focussed, partnership-based network for people and the countryside.  It will allow us to broaden our appeal and fuel a renewed era of campaigning, and it is the most important piece of work we've done this year. 

3.    Planning is vital CPRE has a hard-earned and highly respected reputation for its research and policy work, and I can only claim to have touched the surface of some of the expert knowledge in the organisation.  What I have come to understand is how important our planning system is and has been in enhancing and protecting our countryside, but also how badly it is being undermined, and how upset many of our local campaigners are about the 'democratic deficit' which results.  We need to reassert the role of planning as a democratic force for positive development of better places and enhancement of the environment, and not just as a way of stopping damaging development happening.

4.    …but it's not everything Planning is the best tool we have in the kit and is our core expertise – something which others appreciate, and on which we can offer help to groups sharing our cause.  It is amazing how much work our expert planning volunteers across the country do on behalf of their communities, and we must celebrate that widely.  But the present planning system isn't the only way to enhance and protect our countryside, and as we develop CPRE as a source of solutions we also need to look to practical, collaborative demonstration projects as powerful ways to make our point.  Many CPRE branches have already experimented with practical projects to create new habitats, influence good design and support community land trusts.  Nationally, we want to do a lot more of showing what it is we do want, as well as saying what we don't.

5.    We don't need to destroy the countryside. When I think about the amount of wasted and underutilised land I see on the long journey to get out of any large English city, the very idea that we've somehow exhausted all available supply and just have no choice but to build on countryside to meet need, is derisory.  If only our Government did have an efficient and comprehensive Land-Use Strategy which ensured that we were efficient about what we built where, things might be different.  CPRE is focussing strongly on solutions when it comes to meeting rural housing need (see below), which sometimes will mean building community-led, well-designed, needs dependent, sustainable and proportionate housing on green sites.  But the widespread myth that the young have to accept a trade-off between countryside and housing must be challenged by CPRE at all turns.  Developers can't be allowed to pick and choose the best and most profitable bits to build on while neglecting more challenging brownfield and suburban sites.

6.    …and we do need to do more to demonstrate its benefits to all A newly positive, solution-focussed CPRE is going to be even more determined to protect valuable countryside near cities and towns, including Green Belt.  I have personal experience of that with my nearest bit of Green Belt - the Stort Valley in Hertfordshire - and the heartbreaking plans to build all over that.  I believe that a campaigning approach which cleverly mixes our huge expertise on the planning system with work to enhance and promote the value of countryside, will be very powerful.  Reconnecting urban dwellers with the countryside on their doorstep and all the benefits that it brings, is a big step towards getting them to campaign to save it.

7.    We need a new vision for rural communities Beautiful and accessible countryside has always been at the heart of CPREs mission, but so has 'living' countryside, and that means paying attention to the housing, economic, transport and community needs of those who live in it.  I've been struck in my many conversations this year by what seems to be an absence of a 'vision' for a successful, sustainable rural community in this day and age.  It seems to me that there's a big need for CPRE, working with others such as ACRE and the Rural Coalition, to do something about this: look for the good practice which does exist, and work up a much more robust, holistic and sustainable approach to thriving rural communities which we can point to as the way forward.  Doing this will not only provide a positive force for improving rural life but will also, once again, better facilitate our campaigns to stop things which harm the countryside, like the indefensible Hereford bypass.

8.    Our network is our strength, My first impressions of the power of the combination of our national, expert lobbying presence and our country-wide frontline volunteer network, have been reinforced time and again in my first year.  People in power take CPRE more seriously because they know that we're not just a London-based policy body, but that we represent people and views from all England's counties – even more so now that we have the very robust 'One CPRE' approach to policymaking.  County CPREs tell me in return how much they value the policy and campaigning resources with which the national charity equips them.

9.    …but it needs more support,  I've also seen how our County groups vary, dramatically, from the well-financed and growing membership of some southern counties, to others which are struggling to survive through lack of funds, lack of members and activists or, in the worst cases, both.  We cannot ignore these problems, nor the overall, long-term, decline in membership: the Purpose Project is all about making sure we're better equipped at all levels to address them.

There are also some great local successes which I think we can do more to share and learn from.  These are reasons why the Board has agreed to invest more of national CPREs resources in supporting our County Network, beginning in 2018 with the establishment of the Strategic Collaboration Fund and a new director and team to support volunteers and network development outside London.  I'm very pleased with the speed at which we've been able to put these changes in place – without waiting for the longer-term reviews – in order to help our most vulnerable campaign groups as quickly as possible.

And finally, there's no doubt that for me after one year doing this job, that…

10. CPRE rocks! CPRE is a vibrant, democratic organisation packed with people who care fervently about their community and environment, and with volunteers who give massive amounts of their own time to saving the countryside.  We have a brilliant, hardworking and enthusiastic staff team in London who are a joy to work with.  And our cause is one which inspires equally through the value and beauty of what we seek to protect, and through the fury and sorrow which its destruction invokes.   I couldn't have hoped for a better job in a better organisation and am looking forward with great excitement to even more of it – and seeing even more of you all - in the year ahead. 

Crispin Truman September 2018

WHAT WE DO

  • We promote the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural Hertfordshire by encouraging the sustainable use of land and other natural resources in town and country.
  • We operate through the planning system, screening planning applications countywide and raising the alarm where the countryside is threatened.
  • We influence planning policy through the local development framework process.
  • We offer advice and support to individuals and local groups embarking on planning campaigns.
  • We lobby for sustainable transport policies and safer country lanes.
  • We run the CPRE Hertfordshire Rural Living Awards
  • We organise a children's art competition celebrating the Hertfordshire countryside

Membership is open to all
Join us today
visit www.cpreherts.org.uk; call 01438 717587
Registered Charity No. 1162419

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Winter on the River Gade at Water End by ElizabethHamilton