Staffordshire - Campaign to Protect Rural England

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70 Years of Campaigning

This was a booklet produced by Bill Gee to celebrate the 70th. anniversary of the founding of CPRE Staffordshire.

Countryside - The National Dimension

In the years following the first World War, Britain began to examine itself in a more critical light. This was, after all, to be 'the Land fit for Heroes to return to'. There was a desperate need to tackle the clearance of slum housing and building new homes.

 

The Housing Act of 1924 was one of several designed to encourage the building of new housing by giving government subsidies. By the late 1930s well over 300,000 houses were being built every year. Enlightened bodies were concerned by the growth of sprawling suburbs ever encroaching on the countryside, by the ribbon development of houses alongside arterial roads, the despoilment of some of the finest coastlines, riversides and scenic areas by holiday shacks and the defilement of rural landscapes and roadsides by proliferating advertisement hoardings.


In 1926, 80 years ago, this concern came to a head when a national joint committee gestating into the Council for the Preservation of Rural England was formed with the pre-eminent architect/planner (before such a name was commonly used) Sir Patrick Abercrombie as its Honorary Secretary. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 was subsequently conceived with a view to bringing about 'the emancipation of all communities from the beast of ugliness'.

Not Only But Also

Not only is it the 70th birthday of the Staffordshire Branch but also the 80th birthday of the CPRE nationally. Their history is set out in the "Making Our Mark-80 years of campaigning for the countryside" by Tristram Hunt, which is obtainable from our National Office.

CPRE's first campaign was against ribbon development which threatened to penetrate deep into the countryside. A problem still today, as with the M6 Toll with resulting pressure to develop land along its length. In 1928 an Architectural Advisory Panel was set up to advise on the design of new buildings. This was followed in 1929 by urging the then Prime Minister to set up National Parks. This action was endorsed by the leaders of the three political parties of the time, Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and David Lloyd George. Surely a momentous event when the heads of all political parties agreed!

In 1931 CPRE was appointed as official advisor to the Electricity Commission to advise on the positioning of overhead cables. CPRE endorsed the creation of the first green belt around London. This is a battle still being fought by CPRE and with increasing pressure on the green belts throughout the country it is a battle that must not be lost. During the Second World War, even in the middle of this great conflict there were pressures for post-war reconstruction which culminated in the great social achievements of health and social security legislation and the equally ground-breaking "Town and Country Planning Act 1948" and the "National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act" establishing the basis for planning and environmental protection systems that have operated largely for the better, since that time. In the post-war years, as now, CPRE has campaigned tirelessly in support of countryside interests and to promote, modify and improve legislation. Even more recently it has extended its campaigning to Regional Authorities which in many ways are superseding much of the strategic planning elements of county-wide planning.

CPRE Staffordshire

It was out of the national climate of sentiment aimed at ensuring preservation of England's finest asset - its countryside - that the Staffordshire Branch of CPRE was formed - to counteract the perceived threat to the Staffordshire countryside from untrammeled development.

 

The Evening Sentinel of November 2 1936, published a report of a meeting held on October 31 1936 I for the formation of a branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England'. This is an extract from that report:

"One of the most representative and influential county gatherings of its kind for some time met in Stafford on Saturday, in response to an appeal from the Earl of Harrowby, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, for the formation of a County Branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England'.

The article goes on to report that organisations from all over the county were represented. The chief speaker was the President of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarees. There were in excess of 400 people at the meeting including the Earl and Countess of Harrowby, the Earl and Countess of Lichfield, Viscount and Viscountess Sandon, the Mayor of Stafford, Colonel Harrison OBE, Chairman of Staffordshire County Council and Mrs Harrison, Mr Geoffrey Mander and Mrs Mander, Colonel W J Kent, President of the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce, Alderman Bostock, Mr G L Pepler, Chief Planning Officer of the Ministry of Health, Sir Joseph Lamb, Sir William Goodwin, Mrs J R B Masefield and the Misses Masefield, Mr Donald Campbell of the North Staffordshire Architectural Association, Mr E N Scott, Editor of the Sentinel, Mr Gordon M Forsyth, Director of Art Education for Stoke on Trent.

 

Supporting messages of goodwill were received from Sir Kingsley. Wood, Minister of Health, Mr Oliver Stanley, President of the Board Of Education, Mr Hore-Belisha, Minister of Transport, the Postmaster General, Major G Tryson, the former Minister of Agriculture, Mr Walter Elliot and the First Commissioner of Works, Lord Stanhope.

 

The Aims and Constitution

In his history of the branch, Bill Gee obtained a copy of the attendance list of the Provisional Committee which met on the 19 December 1936. The purpose of the meeting was 'To make the necessary arrangements and bring the Branch into being". An appeal to the people of Staffordshire was approved together with the Constitution. It was addressed to all "Those who are concerned to save for all time the natural beauty of this County of Staffordshire, one of the most interesting and historic in England, and who recognise the influence of that beauty on the prosperity and happiness of all members of the community are invited to safeguard it by becoming members of the County Branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England'.

 

Of course the comment about "preserving for all time" is particularly poignant in view of recent pressures on the green belt, the intention to fast track planning permissions for developments of natural and nuclear power generation and the changes to the planning system which are to implemented shortly.

 

The minimum yearly subscription for individuals was set at 5 shillings with the hope that many would contribute more. Those subscribing a pound or more would be "entitled to receive the monthly report published by the CPRE Headquarters in addition to the Branch reports". The subscription for affiliated organisations was to be a guinea. The County Branch was to "pay annually 10 per cent of its subscriptions and donations (except for donations earmarked by the donor for special purposes) to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England'.

The boundaries of the branch were to be identical with those of the geographical county of Staffordshire. Of course, with the boundary changes of recent years parts of the old county boundary now come under the West Midlands.

The Constitution stated the objects to be:

(a) To organise concerted action for the protection and preservation from disfigurement or injury of the amenities of rural scenery or of features of local interest within its area, and with that end in view promote co-operation between Local Authorities, Town and Country Planning Committees, Local Societies, Landowners and all other persons interested.

(b) To act as a Local Centre for giving or obtaining advice and information on all matters affecting the preservation of such amenities.

Provision was made in the Constitution to set up "Area Committees" with the intention that they should "assist in carrying out the aims and objects of the County Branch'. The minimum subscription for those not members of the
Staffordshire Branch was set at "2/6d per annum
. Fifty percent of all subscriptions and fifty percent of the balance in hand shall be payable to the Staffordshire Branch': We currently have district groups in the central, south and east and are setting up a Northern district group in the Moorlands.

 

At a General Council Meeting held in April 1937 it was noted that "Lord Harrowby informed the meeting that he had received a communication from Lord Anglesey, offering to give 130 acres of land at Beaudesert for the use of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, provided a Trust could be set up to control it. He, Lord Harrowby, thought this was a very munificent gift and he would suggest that one of the Trustees should be Chairman of the Staffordshire Branch': This arrangement continues to the present day and Beaudesert now plays host to nearly 40,000 youngsters a year providing outdoor pursuits in truly wonderful and well managed countryside on Cannock Chase.

 

Early Beginnings

Reading through the minutes of the early committee meetings, it is clear that, from the outset, the chief areas of concern for the members then, as they often are now, were to do with planning matters and with the effects of public works on the appearance of the countryside. For our present concerns with wind turbines read electricity grids and telephone lines; for our recent concerns about mobile advertising hoardings read theirs about 'unsightly advertisements'. Nationally and locally the growth of our "conurbations" looms ever-larger, green belts once strongly established as permanent features are now cast into the melting pot, and major new airfields, road and rail links and retail and business parks intrude omnipotently. It seems little has changed in the last seventy years in the challenges that constantly threaten the care and appearance of our countryside.

 

The last recorded Committee meeting before the outbreak of the Second World War was in July 1939. It is very surprising to note that at the first recorded Executive Committee meeting after the war, held in 1945, no mention seems to have been made that the country had just suffered six years of war nor of the privations and rationing that still persisted. The minutes of that meeting read as though they were following on from the previous meeting held in July 1939. Even the membership of the committee was remarkably similar. It was to be left to a meeting in June 1946 before notice was taken that there had been a cessation of activities during the war and that the Branch had been effectively dormant. This meeting was concerned to reactivate and to reconstitute the committee. The minimum subscription for membership was still to be 5 shillings, the same as in 1936!

 

Meetings held during the fifties reflect the changing times and social habits. Therewere concerns expressed about rowdy parties at Rudyard Lake, a proposed North-South motorway which in 1955 was considered to be a long way away, concern for theimminent closures of canals, proposed open cast mining at Keele and the effects of roadside spraying on wild flowers. Interestingly, efforts were being made to preserve windmills, particularly one at Sedgley. The Annual Report for November 1953 saw the first introduction of a colour photograph.

 

Over the years, to keep up with the times, our name has been kept under review. In 1969 consideration was given to changing the title to the Council for Rural England. In 1970 the word Protection replaced Preservation. This was the title used until the latest change which replaced Council with Campaign.

 

Later Years

In the early post-war years great faith was placed in the legislation - notably the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act - to bring to fruition the aspirations of the early countryside protection pioneers. The new planning system in the main, ensured housing and employment growth whilst cherishing the countryside by setting up green belts around Staffordshire's two major conurbations, the Peak District National Park overlapping the north-east of the county was established together with its "little sister", Cannock Chase, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These measures, complemented by the "Listing" of Buildings of Architectural and Historic Interest and the designation of Conservation Areas (pursued energetically by the County Council) have proved effective over time in addressing CPRE's environmental ambitions.

 

It was alarmingly apparent, however, from the 1960s onwards that the new planning system had a wider remit than amenity matters; it was nothing less than holding the balance between competing aims for developing land - and protection of our countryside was, of course, just one side of the balance. It fell to CPRE to ensure that in this balancing act the case for the countryside was fought against that of unchallenged development. Public faith in planning was also challenged at this time by the insensitive and socially disastrous redevelopment of towns and cities and the depressingly unimaginative form of "new housing", far removed from the promised "brave new world".

 

New farming practices involved the wholesale removal of hedgerows and Dutch Elm disease compounded the ravages of traditional landscapes. CPRE's traditional role as a campaigning upholder of rural values needed to assume a harder edge and we became additionally and deeply involved in responses to planning applications and the extensive family of development plans, a hugely technical and time consuming exercise exacerbated by the upheaval of local government reorganisation and new legislation. CPRE's involvement with its members accelerated over the later years of the 20th century. A succession of talks by informed speakers arranged by our District Groups on countryside topics attracted substantial audiences. Tree planting cooperative ventures with landowners and local authorities resulted in many copses and plantations on Cannock Chase and in the open country-one development of which was the "Hilltop Planting Schemes" on prominent high ground sites throughout the county. To service this programme and our contribution of providing commemorative trees for the winners of the" Best Kept Village Competition", CPRE shared the County Council's tree nursery on Cannock Chase. A wide range of visits to historic houses and gardens (often inaccessible to normal visitors) has been a popular feature of our annual social programme and a source of contact between our widespread membership and adjoining county CPRE.

 

The next 70 Years

Our 70th Anniversary is a time not just for remembrance, but also to reaffirm our commitment to the future of the countryside which looks ever more challenging. New housing forecasts imply previously inconceivable levels of development - and greenfield losses, global warming and the attendant need for renewable forms of energy may, or hopefully may not, damage our cherished landscapes, as may new farming practices. CPRE will continue to oppose unacceptable erosion of our rural birthright, challenge new forms of countryside planning to assimilate gracefully within a landscape of indisputable beauty and tranquillity and champion, along with people of like mind, the aims and objectives of the founders of CPRE in Staffordshire 70 years ago.

 

Compared to 1936 England is now a land of plenty but the countryside has never been in greater danger and need of protection. In this "age of leisure" there is the paradox that on the one hand the countryside is taken for granted and is much sought after, whilst on the other hand there is the cynical voracity of those who seek to use and abuse the countryside for their own purposes: the social engineers of central and regional government, the property developers, the mineral extractors, the road builders and, of course, the leisure developers themselves!

 

Who will be holding the line in the next 70 years? There will always be local interest groups fighting local developments, roads, quarries and so on and, as we do now, we will help as support those groups. But these are skirmishes. Who will be fighting the war to hold the balance that was referred to earlier. It can only be CPRE with their commitment, experience and the depth of skills at our disposal. But as mentioned earlier, we need to move with the times as an evolving organisation. There will of course be new challenges in the 21st century; there are those we know of,global warming, renewable power, intrusive housing and those we cannot conceive at this time. We will also be broadening our scope to work more closely with those living in the countryside, the farmers, the land owners and the local food producers. We will continue our fight against light pollution and our fight for tranquility in the countryside, a campaign which starts later this year.

 

We believe we have achieved much over the last 70 years and CPRE continues to be just as relevant today. We now affirm our commitment to Staffordshire's beautiful countryside and it's historic towns and villages for the next 70 years.

 

Dramatis Personae

 Over our 70 years the Branch has been served by a multiplicity of talents.

We first of all give thanks to our national patron, Her Majesty the Queen, who has graced that position for the whole of her reign. In Staffordshire her successive representatives, the Lord Lieutenants of our ancient county, have each added their eminence as our Presidents. Our Vice Presidents have always included the Chairman of the County Council which has reinforced our close connection with the Council. In recent years Nancy, Lady Bagot and Sir Patrick Cormack FSA, MP have given continuous close support as has Mary Mathews, another ex-County Planning Officer who we thank for her guidance. The late Lord Lichfield reflected his close involvement in Staffordshire in his practical help and support to our Branch over many years.

 We are also grateful for the range of disciplines and backgrounds of our Committee Members and successive Chairmen. Initially the Committee was heavily weighted by distinguished landowners and nobility which gave a 

suitable gravitas to our proceedings, but this was rapidly broadened by major Staffordshire industrialists and representatives of an eclectic list of County environmental and social organisations. More recently, our members have included architects, planners, farmers, landowners, academics, businessmen, retired officers of HM Forces et al,

Adroitly avoiding selection by merit and commenting on the remarkable length of service given by individuals, Gordon Myatt occupied loyally the post of Vice Chairman to several Chairmen, Bernard Leigh was an early long-serving Treasurer and tower of common sense; and David Woodward, our Hon. Secretary, was quietly unassuming but consequently highly effective over a long period. That post was filled in the Branch's early post-war
years by Dennis Riley, the then County Planning Officer, whose guidance helped set the high standards of the Branches effective and informed involvement in public affairs which continues to give authority to CPRE's
views. Such cross-disciplinary involvement would be unlikely to recur today. Lillian Howorth, a leading light in the Womens' Institute brought great energy and charm in those early years to running the Branch both as Secre-
tary and, later, Chairman. Phil Goode, another county planner, has acted as our Hon. Technical Adviser for nearly a quarter of a century - devotion to duty can go no further than this-although we hope it may!

We cannot, nor should we, avoid mention of the succession of lady secretary-typists, each of whom has not only run our office in their own charming and wholly efficient way, but has also provided both continuity and the relaxed friendliness that has characterised our group. Quite simply the Branch could not have functioned without their unflappable dedication. No apologies either for specific mention of Christine Finlow, an ex-office colleague of Phil Goode for her talented black and white designs for the covers of our Annual Reports for over 20 years - a collectable series.

Each of our branch chairmen has contributed to the progress of the branch in their own way and with their own personalities. Without this lead we would be the poorer and we record our thanks to them and all those committee members and helpers who have not been mentioned by name. Finally we must record our thanks to Bob Bray for compiling this history from the various writers and sources.

New Picture

This picture, drawn by Chris Finlow, was used on the cover of our 2003 Annual Report. It depicts Barnfields Farm, Stafford which was demolished in 1975 to make way for the Wildwood estate and the supermarket. It would be unlikely that such buildings would be demolished now, instead they would be incorporated into the estate and enliven the new buildings               .

Acknowledgement

We are grateful to Bill Gee for his compilation of the brief history of the Branch from the minutes of the general and committee meeting minutes.

We also acknowledge the permission of the Evening Sentinel to include extracts of the newspaper report in this history. 

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