Leader Views


Posted on:
13th July, 2018

How CPRE and LEPs can together do more for England's countryside

As a charity, CPRE wants to see the best use made of England’s land resources in order to safeguard the countryside that we have. We can help LEPs increase their understanding of our rural communities.

How CPRE and LEPs can together do more for England's countryside

By Paul Miner, Head of Devolution and Strategic Plans at the Campaign to Protect Rural England

I have worked at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) as a planner for over 16 years and in the past six, I have also been a trustee of Wildlife & Countryside Link, an umbrella body which works on policy issues of common interest to CPRE and many other environmental NGOs. Both organisations have taken an interest in rural development but to date we have, with some exceptions, had little experience of engaging with LEPs.

At present, for example, it is relatively rare for LEP board members to come from environmental groups or other NGOs. But LEPs matter to CPRE and other environmental NGOs because LEPs are gaining increasing responsibilities for public spending on development in rural areas across England. Over the period from 2014 to 2020 £6.5 billion of European funding is available across the 38 LEP areas, and £7.2 billion has been allocated to LEPs across three successive rounds of Growth Deals concluded with the UK Government. Per individual LEP, the allocation of these funds varies from £150 million for the Cumbria LEP to £1.07 billion for the Greater Manchester LEP (see pages 20 and 21 of the Local Enterprise Partnerships Briefing Paper May 2017).

The European element of the funding partly covers rural development, and LEPs are also encouraged to work closely with Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) on delivering environmental improvement. In order to find out more about the impact on the countryside and regeneration, CPRE surveyed its local groups during 2017.

Broadly speaking, the report produced from the survey has highlighted that many LEPs appear to lack a rural reach. In future, LEPs will have to take a growing interest in rural places, their history and how they function, through preparing Local Industrial Strategies. There are a number of important initiatives that LEPs are already leading.

In particular, LEPs in the South West set up a Rural Productivity Commission, which reported in 2017. The Commission included the CEO of the Exmoor National Park Authority as well as senior figures from regional food and farming businesses. It came up with a number of exciting ideas for investing in affordable housing, small farmers and natural and cultural heritage - and we look forward to the sponsoring LEPs taking these up.

Similar work is also being done by the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP that covers the largest rural area of any LEP. The LEP is also looking to improve the evidence available for local plans and decisions through stacked natural capital mapping. It has issued a think piece highlighting the current confusing array of currently available data and the need to get a comprehensive overview. Importantly, the LEP is not just looking at the most obvious parts of ‘natural capital’ such as land protected for nature conservation. It is also looking at areas of agricultural production as well as values experienced by people in rural places and which can benefit their health, such as tranquillity. This holistic approach is welcome.

As a charity, CPRE wants to see the best use made of England’s land resources in order to safeguard the countryside that we have. We can help LEPs increase their understanding of our rural communities through:

Our local reach. We are a national charity but we also have a long-established voluntary network of regional groups, county branches and district groups. Local CPRE groups rely on volunteers and their level of activity and resources can therefore vary. But across our network we have significant experience of places and how they function; and also how they might better function to address the challenges of regional growth, climate change and the need for more affordable housing and sustainable land management.

Providing expertise, particularly on planning, sustainable development and the landscape. In particular our work on mapping tranquillity can help LEPs consider how and where we can manage the countryside for its health benefits. LEPs are also encouraged by Government to work with local authorities on bringing brownfield sites forward for development, and brownfield development is often a good investment in terms of regenerating communities, saving farmland and removing public health nuisances such as contamination. CPRE is closely analysing the new brownfield registers produced by local authorities and is actively promoting good quality regeneration on brownfield sites.

Challenging as a critical friend. CPRE is developing new ideas for both the protection of the countryside we have as well as the better development of rural communities. In recent years we’ve issued our ‘Foresight’ reports on both making more rural land available for affordable housing and on encouraging the revival of small and medium sized farms. Many of our local groups also run award schemes which can often be an opportunity to showcase good developments that LEPs have invested in.

Local Industrial Strategies are an exciting opportunity to understand the importance of our countryside and how protecting and improving it can help grow the economy across England in the future. CPRE is well positioned to help LEPs better understand and work with rural places. We look forward to working with you more over the coming years.

Click here for a map of CPRE branches.

For more information, please contact Paul Miner, Head of Devolution and Strategic Plans via LinkedIn or by email paulm@cpre.org.uk

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