A Manifesto for Surrey’s Countryside

The Surrey Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling on candidates for Surrey’s 11 parliamentary seats to endorse its ‘Manifesto for Surrey’, ten demands which it says are “essential policies for the protection of Surrey’s countryside, towns and villages”. You can read the manifesto here: http://www.cpresurrey.org.uk/2019/03/local-council-candidates-urged-to-back-cpres-manifesto-for-surrey/

I am a member of CPRE and have a strong interest in our local (as well as global) environment. I agree with them that the countryside must be managed in ways that help address the climate emergency and improve biodiversity. And that affordable homes (genuinely affordable ones, that is) are needed, as well as public transport that works for those who live in rural communities, and provides access to the countryside for those who don’t.

I am concerned that despite fine words and nice pledges by politicians, Surrey’s countryside remains under threat. For example, the Conservatives’ election literature talks about protecting the Green Belt but research by CPRE shows that the rate of housing built on Green Belt has trebled since the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government introduced the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.

Our local MP Crispin Blunt is leading an all-party group on protection of the Green Belt – but he voted for the NPPF when it was established!

I believe we must and can change Surrey from a Conservative-dominated county – and bring integrity and honesty, fairness and better ideas into politics at all levels here. Without this I fear that our communities and countryside will lose out as there is greater and greater pressure for Surrey’s villages and towns to act us suburbs for London.

If you are not already a Green Party member please consider joining us – and stand up for a different future for us all, as well as fighting for our countryside and communities.

My comments on the CPRE Manifesto goals are as follows:

–    Commit to tackling the single greatest challenge facing our county, our country and the world – namely the current Climate and Ecological Emergency, which has far-reaching consequences for us all, and which must take precedence over all other political, social and economic issues;

Yes. And this means actually tackling it, not just to ‘declaring’ an emergency while continuing to support airport expansion and approve applications to drill for oil (such as at Horse Hill near Horley). An emergency requires changes now, not a few trees planted and a vague promise of action at some time in the future. From day one, the next government must begin implementing ambitious measures to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045 – at the very latest.

The Climate Emergency should be treated as an emergency. And we must also consider the Nature Emergency at the same time – the way we address climate change must improve countryside. We must carefully plan how we both mitigate and adapt to climate change in the countryside, including tree planting to improve climate resilience and catchment management to reduce risk of flooding.

I co-founded the Surrey Climate Commission to bring together the public sector, business and local communities across Surrey to create community-led plans for how we deal with climate change. The government must better fund work on the ground – cuts to Council funding have hit support for planning, the environment twice as hard as they have social care (source: Audit Commission, 2018).

–    Promote nature conservation, wildlife protection and increasing biodiversity through policies that encourage sustainable farming and land-use, and by fully recognising the crucial importance of the natural environment to our entire way of life;

Promote public health and well-being by properly maintaining parks and open spaces so that all communities have opportunities for outdoor recreation in their own neighbourhoods, and to enable everyone, including our younger generation, to enjoy our environment and reconnect with nature in safe, accessible, local countryside, with walking and cycling routes throughout Surrey;

Yes. In Surrey this means having a Countryside Strategy that applies not just to Council-owned land managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust, but all of our countryside, including land managed by the National Trust, Forestry Commission and private landowners. The next government must improve access to green spaces for everyone, particularly for children and those from disadvantaged communities.

–    Meet local housing needs in our towns and villages by ensuring the provision of well-designed, appropriately-sized, high-quality homes that local people can afford – including social housing for rent – and by encouraging sustainable high-density developments on brownfield, urban sites.

I strongly agree. The government must support a well-resourced planning system that empowers communities and promotes development that responds to their needs. We need to reform the planning system and make it robust, rather than the developers’ charter we now have. Green Belt protection needs to be strengthened.

The government must fund the provision of truly affordable homes. The Green Party manifesto has costed plans for 100,000 zero-carbon social homes a year.

To help rural communities thrive, the next government must address the specific challenges they face, in housing, transport and digital infrastructure. This calls for the creation of new ‘climate jobs’ in transport, waste and resources, food and farming, energy generation and energy efficiency improvements which will help sustain local economies across the UK, particularly in rural areas.