CPRE Essex AGM 2020: a virtual affair but an absolute triumph
Any fears that CPRE Essex would struggle with the ‘virtual’ holding of this year’s AGM by Zoom were predictably dispelled as the event proved a resounding success.
Thorough preparation and a couple of dry runs meant chairman David Knight was able to conduct proceedings (on the morning of Saturday, October 3) without a hitch and guest speaker Crispin Truman, national chief executive, could entertain a healthy turnout as he outlined the way forward for our organisation.
Once the procedural matters had been dealt with commendably proficiently and speedily, Jill Hinds made a point of thanking David for his efforts as CPRE Essex chairman, having taken it with no previous knowledge of the charity. The sentiment was warmly shared.
And then it was on to the chief executive, who told how had a particular fondness for Essex as it was the nearest countryside to his home in Hackney, while the Essex-Hertfordshire area provided his closest Green Belt. He also noted the CPRE plaque at Epping station that of course denotes the start of The Essex Way, the long-distance footpath that ends at Harwich.
Crispin told us that three years of strategy work had concluded with the launch of the rebranded CPRE as the countryside charity. This had coincided with lockdown, but an investment in Cloud technology allowed a seamless switch to home-working.
We were told that the organisation had reserves and member support but we would be looking forward with a view to attracting young people. We now had a clear strategy, with the vision of a thriving, beautiful countryside for all driving everything.
There had, however, been a long-term decline in money and membership for years, with the charity over-dependent on legacies.
We had been losing too many policy battles and needed to regain the initiative, getting on the front food. Hence the Purpose Project was launched.
It was clear that the CPRE logo was old-fashioned and unattractive, and people didn’t know what it represented.
There would be a move towards the idea of the countryside charity, although we would still be called CPRE.
Crispin gave us a quick historical run-through, referring particularly to the concepts of good growth and good houses in the right places.
He detailed the vision (what we wanted to achieve) and the mission (what we needed to do). One thing that might have gone unnoticed was a slight reordering to now give us ‘promote, enhance and protect’… the ‘protect’ had been moved to third place.
It was important that we encouraged urban people into the countryside and, in the other direction, got the Green Belt to push back into our towns and cities.
We were told we needed a strong rural vision so urban solutions were not imposed on rural areas.
The chief executive conceded that CPRE had neglected its local network, but that was to change. A new volunteering partnership team would be starting in the north and midlands.
CPRE should be here for our successors, said Crispin. There was still a lot of work needed to raise public awareness of who we were, while it was important to diversify our income sources.
We would be taking a broader approach to our outreach, not simply focusing on the message of ‘join us’. The National Trust was an interesting contrast with its ‘give us money’ attitude.
CPRE would be engaging in more hard-nosed recruitment and there would be a strong campaign next year. National Office would help branches in telling people who we were.
The countryside had a range of specific issues that should be addressed – for example, it takes someone in a rural area 54 per cent longer to reach a doctor’s surgery than a counterpart in an urban area.
Although we were a countryside charity, not a planning charity, we could not ignore the matter of proposed planning reform, the detail of which looked grim. Our consultation response could be viewed on the CPRE website.
The government appeared tied to market solutions in relation to housing, which was drawing yet more people to the South East. A loss of democracy was also a big issue – we needed to get involved at Local Plan level.
An example of the craziness that could unfold through the new proposals was a doubling of housebuilding in both Cumbria and the Cotswolds and a reduction in cities.
Finally, Crispin mentioned the fact we had a new chairman in Simon Murray.
With the virtual floor now open to questions and observations, Robert Erith said he thought the Glover Review’s promotion of a National Landscapes Service just seemed like more bureaucracy.
Richard Haynes then asked about the Oliver Letwin review into housebuilding that stated house prices would not be reduced by setting aside more land for development. The government now seemed to be ignoring its own report – clearly, Letwin had not delivered the conclusion the government had wanted.
Crispin replied that this government was wholly market-led and referred briefly to its use of the now-notorious algorithms. The Letwin conclusion had been noted in the CPRE consultation response.
Tricia Moxey asked how strong the CPRE voice would be when there were so many other organisations clamouring for people’s attention.
We had to get a lot more people in rural areas speaking up about housing, replied Crispin. The balance had been lost – countryside was a valuable asset in itself and we couldn’t keep trading it off.
Michael Hand wanted to congratulate National Office for its One CPRE consultation response, while Petra Ward asked what status Neighbourhood Plans would be likely to have.
Crispin thought there would not be much change in that department and feared there would be little improvement.
If it was a slightly downbeat note on which to end, it gave the lie to what had been an enthralling meeting. Indeed, Saturday mornings rarely come much better than this… that said, let’s hope we can all gather in person for next year’s AGM.