Headlines: February 26th, 2008

Countryside campaigners are today publishing a paper that they hope will be the springboard for a debate on the future of the countryside. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has also set up an online forum and wants to involve a wide range of people, including local authority planners in reaching a view on a number of key issues.

CPRE President, the author Bill Bryson, said the forum was being launched because the widest possible debate was needed. “Last year I was challenged to lead a debate with our members on the future of the countryside in 2026, CPRE’s centenary year, but we want a wider, national debate. After all, if we can explore and understand what people want from our countryside in 20 years time, then we will be in a much better position to plan the steps to get there,” he said.

Mr. Bryson said CPRE would use the results to seek to influence Government but the issue should not be left to politicians. It should be discussed by everyone, from farmers to business people and planners to village shop owners.

To begin the debate, the Campaign is publishing ‘Towards a vision for the countryside’, which identifies what it sees as five key countryside issues describing possible futures. On the planning system it says there should be a new focus on the increased use of the ‘countryside next door’, within a few minutes walk of where people live. Future development, it says, would be carried out sensitively, retaining the character of the countryside while encouraging access and recreation. This would lead to what it calls ‘a greener Green Belt.’

The other issues are lifestyle and leisure, climate change and the countryside, food and farming and life in cities, towns and villages. About three quarters of new homes will be built within urban areas on existing brownfield land. Some would be built in the countryside with smaller towns and villages growing as a result of the revival in locally produced food and the interest in the countryside for leisure.

Shaun Spiers, the Chief Executive of CPRE, said, “While we continue to defend countryside from inappropriate development we also want to come up with positive solutions. We want to show how necessary development can be accommodated without eating up too much countryside, and how the countryside’s value as an amenity in supplying food and in helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change, can be enhanced.”