Sometimes a group is so unswerving and demanding of ‘privileges’ that it is its own worst enemy. I am reminded of the French ‘ultra royalists’ who in the aftermath of the restoration of the Monarchy after Napoleon would not give an inch on any social concession of the revolution, promoted their own poor candidate for King |(who signed his own fate) and living a life of total excess. Once a wedding was conducted with such huge excess that the hungry Paris mob burned down the church.
Our own landowners arent quite as stupid, after all the English landowning classes survived because of their flexibility; however inflexibility and stupidity seem to be growing. The attitude still is – we should be able to put up an ugly shed where we like when we like.
Today the public has great expectations of the English Countryside. It is treated as a giant collective back garden. We don’t just expect it to grow food, it must be humanely produced and tasty, and preferably either organic or in the ‘bargain’ range. We turn our noses up to fields of oil seed rape and megadairies, but smile at biodiverse verges and fluffy lambs hugged by children.
Of course our expectation are very high, perhaps too high. We dont often connect our cheap food requires places to grow it, and our managed hedges and fields require an income stream to keep this wholly man made landscape as beautiful as it is.
However this should be an opportunity for farmers to demonstrate their worth as countryside custodians and not make enemies.
But boy do the CLA and NFU like making enemies. Although many of their suggested changes to the NPPF were sensible and not taken up, they never seem to miss an opportunity recommend regulatory changes which conjure images of gassed badgers, ramblers entwined in barbed wire or falling off too narrow coastal paths, bats and newts banished and giant slurry pits stinking out the nearest village.
Take their responses to the NPPF:
The CLA has criticised the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for failing to get heritage policy right.
The Association said that while the NPPF is a step forward in terms of relaxing the planning system, its chapter on heritage is a disappointment which threatens our nation’s heritage.
CLA President Harry Cotterell said: “CLA members manage more than a quarter of all heritage in England. If heritage is to be looked after effectively for future generations, good heritage policy is vital. Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) was a big improvement on what preceded it but there were important heritage holes which the NPPF has failed to deal with.
“The NPPF does not recognise the need for heritage to be changed in a sympathetic way so that it is maintained and kept relevant. Waiting until a building is decaying before change can be considered is not heritage protection, it is heritage death by red tape.”
Whilst the NFU
“The section on protecting the natural environment reinforces the importance of taking appropriate regard to different designations is welcome. But farmers will be surprised that the NPPF provides planning status for Nature Improvement Areas and introduces the concept of ‘stepping stones’ and ‘wildlife corridors’ as part of the countryside hierarchy
What CLA was objecting to was the restriction in PPS5, now in the NPPF that owners of historic buildings be allowed to demolish and later buildings provided there was not ‘overwhelming harm to significance’ of heritage assets rather than the ‘low bar’ as they put it of ‘significant harm’. Whilst the NFU seems to be living in an ecosystem services, Natural Environment White Paper free world. Alienating the whole of the heritage and green lobbies, not a good way of making friends.
Indeed both organisations seem to rest in the last century in terms of their PR operations. They can no longer survive today on an expectation of special treatment. Like it or not the huntin, shootin, fishin, farmin lobby though large and noisy is largely a spent and defeated force by the environmentalist/animal welfare lobby (in the battle of public opinion if not public policy). They need to recast and reform their approach in that light, and start making friends. They need to be more more Hugh Fernleigh Wittingstall/Jimmy Doherty and much less old school like Harry Cotterell.
Indeed I would say that to stay relevant they need to abolish themselves, merge and relaunch themselves as a new operation, as many NGOs have done. Perhaps Farmvoice (with a smily pig logo) – with the strapline ‘stewards of the countryside‘, with extra stakeholders on the board and media friendly spokepeople and campaigns.
Responses are welcomed.