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CPRE London ‘makes waves where it matters,’ says outgoing Chair

By deliar
23rd May 2024

In his AGM speech, below, Tony Burton said CPRE London was doing a fine job – but there are still challenges for London’s countryside.

Over the last few weeks as this meeting has approached I have inevitably been reflecting on what CPRE London has – and has not – achieved in the last few years and what it means to be England’s leading countryside charity in London, our capital city?

How do CPRE’s eternal messages about the value of beauty, and the importance of making good use of land and caring for green spaces, resonate for a generation which is sounding the alarm on an ecological and climate emergency?

At one level I am finding many of the answers reassuring.  Their origins lie in the same campaigns that CPRE has wrestled with for generations.  These are the campaigns that brought us the planning system and created the Green Belt to curb urban sprawl.  They are the campaigns for beauty in all our lives and for the right to experience dark skies and tranquil areas.

Great campaigns

London has been the cradle for so much of this – from the great campaigns to save Hampstead Heath and other areas of common land, to Octavia Hill’s vision for more “open air living rooms for the poor” as delivered by initiatives like her Wandle Valley Open Spaces Committee in the early 20th century.

These are all in the tradition of making the benefits of the countryside available to everyone, whatever their circumstances and wherever they live. You can see this tradition writ large in our campaigns today for Ten New Parks, to protect the Green Belt and in our popular vision for London to be ringed by trees and reap the benefits of an M25 for nature.

CPRE London’s work to bring more of the benefits of the countryside – its beauty, tranquillity, wildlife and places to escape – to people’s doorsteps helps both town and country.  It simultaneously improves the quality of life for Londoners and reduces the pressure on rural areas caused by people moving out.  City life also means less travel and less impact on natural resources and the climate too.

London is blessed with a remarkable network of green spaces, rivers and waterways.  Nearly 50% of the capital is green. This isn’t by chance.  It is because successive generations have stood up to be counted on what they consider to be important.  This is a second vital strand to CPRE London’s role.

Parks and gardens

Today we stand up to be counted by supporting the networks of Friends Groups who give so much volunteer time and energy to London’s parks and green spaces.

We also bring together the Green Defenders – the local volunteers who rise up when poor development is proposed and green spaces threatened.

We know there is huge public concern about the scale and quality of new building, its poor design, the loss of trees and open space, the failure to use wasted land and the impact of noise and air pollution.

In planning their future the things that matter to people in their local neighbourhoods are too often overlooked, and their knowledge and insight too often ignored.

To a large extent, London remains a city of villages.  Their stories evoke local pride and provoke community action.  Each time we protect or support one of London’s town greens, local markets, historic buildings, local wildlife areas or community assets we are making the city a more attractive place to live, helping protect the countryside from further sprawl and reducing our climate impact.

In my own piece of the city, Mitcham, south London, we are at the poorer part of town.  Life expectancy drops by a year for every stop on the wonderful tram that runs east from Wimbledon.  Yet there is a fierce pride in Mitcham’s story.  Its network of protected town greens, its 18th century pubs and 17th century manor houses, its ponds, its large Common and the oldest cricket ground in the world.

These village roots drive a demand for quality from new development and a desire to make the area even greener, to strengthen our local market and to provide for more of our energy locally, all helping to meet the challenges of a new age.

Need for swift action

CPRE knows how to be a local champion and speak up for the things that matter.  We are committed to making London an even more wonderful place to live.  But I also know that we have to do more and to do it swiftly.

As we wrestle with the climate and ecological crises and the consequences of urban sprawl, we will find answers that lie in the story of London’s growth and the landscapes beneath our feet.  We all need to step forward to recognise, celebrate and protect London’s neighbourhoods.  These lie in an often hidden landscape rich with rivers, open spaces, vistas, woods and footpaths.

There are too many stories of special places lost or threatened and of open spaces kept private where local people aren’t welcome. Yet this is also a landscape rich in opportunity where new green spaces can be made, beautiful development constructed, landscapes revealed and public access created.

This is why CPRE London is mapping the green spaces that matter to communities, tackling the waste of brownfield land, calling for Ten New Parks, identifying the city’s tranquil places and demanding wider public access and better links.

It is why we are ever vigilant and fighting the constant pressures to erode our precious green spaces and the Green Belt.

It is also why we work with others, such as London Wildlife Trust, Living Streets, National Park City and the Ramblers, to put London’s environment and the climate challenge at the front of decision makers minds and public elections such as those we have just had over the GLA and future Mayor of London.

CPRE London believes we won’t solve the challenge of the climate emergency, the ecological crisis and the threat to the countryside without making our cities thrive.  And to do this CPRE London is here to give our city’s landscapes and neighbourhoods an ever stronger voice.

And so in closing I am pleased to report CPRE London is in rude health.  Anna and the team are making waves where it matters.  We have a brilliant bunch of new trustees and now Suzanne to take the helm.  And with the continuing support of everyone in this room we know we can hold the torch for London’s countryside in an ever more complex and challenging world.

Thank you.

Oak at Osterley