Nick Clegg: Rural Recession

Introduction
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today.
I am delighted to welcome you all to Sheffield…
My part of the world.
And – if you’ll forgive my bias – the perfect place for us to talk about our visions for the countryside.

When I get back to Sheffield from London I always feel much calmer.
Like I have time to think.

Who wouldn’t when round the corner in the Peak District the backdrop is rolling moors, woodland, caves, rocky peaks?
I’m hardly the first to notice…
The beauty of these surroundings is so impressive.
Countless of our most famous authors and poets have written about them.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen did.
Wordsworth visited. And actually so did Sherlock Homes.

So I’m in good company when I say that these landscapes are an important part of our heritage.
Across England, and the rest of Britain.
In Ireland, the Highlands and in Wales too.

Every time I take my boys to clamber on the rocks at Stanage Edge I’m struck by how good it is to show them the breathtaking beauty on our doorstep…
By how generations of children have played on those rocks.
And how generations to come must be allowed to do so as well.

I think the people in this room probably understand what I mean better than anywhere.
It is after all the spirit on which you were founded.

The local CPRE branch – the Sheffield and Peaks Branch has been a truly admirable force in championing access to the countryside…
Since the famous Kinder Scout Trespass.

You understand, as do we, the Liberal Democrats, that we must not squander this wonderful inheritance.
Our rich and diverse natural environment.

But you also understand, as do we, that they have come under threat.
The threat of neglect, of bad planning, of pollution.

Today I would like to talk about these threats.
And about what we can do to overcome them.

You see I believe the pressures on rural communities are going to get worse.
We are facing difficult times.
When I say that I don’t mean fewer bonuses for freewheeling bankers.
I mean real recession, for real people.
Rural recession.

It’s going to mean more service cuts.
More lost jobs, more repossessed homes.

Recession means tougher times for rural communities and tougher decisions for how we use land.
So more than ever we need a vision for rural England.
To make sure we make the right decisions.

Our vision, the Liberal Democrat vision, has three parts.
We believe that our plans for land must always be green.
Fixing the economy must never come at the expense of protecting the environment…
The two must go hand in hand.

We believe that rural communities should be accessible.
The most stunning parts of our country should not be the enclaves of the rich and retired…
They should be communities for everyone

And we believe our countryside should be vibrant.
Villages and towns should not be denied vital services…
Rural enterprise, jobs and prosperity, should be encouraged to flourish.

Rural Recession
So before I give some of the detail to this vision, what will “rural recession” look like?

Well, you have to start from the fact that rural England already contains some of this nation’s starkest poverty.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, it’s not all Range Rovers and country getaways.
It’s also ordinary families struggling with high bills – fuel, council tax, water.
It’s an ageing population: hard pressed pensioners having to choose between heating or eating.
It’s high numbers of hidden homeless: young men and women unable to get on the housing ladder, living from night to night on the charity of others.

Did you know that on average people working in the most rural areas earn over £7000 less each year than people working in cities?
But rural homes are on average £30,000 more expensive?

Rural areas have a higher proportion of small businesses than urban areas.
With many more people self-employed or working from home.

Recession, rising unemployment and high living costs are going to hit these people hard.

And all rural communities are going to see even more cutbacks on the services they need.
This Government has already hacked away at them:
They’ve starved local hospitals of money…
Undermined small schools…
Devastated the rural post office network.

This may have been the decade that saw Gordon Brown double public spending…
But rural England hasn’t seen the benefits.

And I’m afraid anyone who thinks that falling house prices are going to fix rural housing need are going to be sorely disappointed.

With wages so low…
With mortgages so hard to get…
With repossessions up and more families out on the street…
The number of people needing homes is going to be more, not less.
Landowners are going to hold onto sites to ride out the downturn…
And the number of homes available won’t necessarily increase.

My overriding fear is that we have a two tier countryside which is only going to get worse.

So we need a new vision.
A vision I believe my party is ideally placed to deliver.
Over half of our MPs represent rural constituencies.
Your heartlands are our heartlands.
We have a green backbone running through everything we do.
We believe in communities – in putting power in local hands.
And we believe that as times get harder it is more urgent than ever to end the rural raw deal.

So how do we do that?
How do we protect our landscapes and help our rural communities?

We need to be ambitious – let’s decide what we want rural Britain to look like and let’s make it happen.
That’s what the urban regeneration drive is all about, why not our countryside communities too?

Don’t get me wrong, I know this won’t be easy.
Although we all have a shared interest in the countryside…
There are a lot of competing interests too.

But if we are going to alleviate rural poverty…
If we are going to cherish land whilst supporting thriving communities…
We must now drive forward a vision for rural England that is environmentally sustainable, socially sustainable, and economically sustainable.
Communities that are green.
Communities that are accessible.
And communities that are vibrant.

Green
Let’s start with green.

It’s a shorthand way of saying that our commitment to the natural environment is unwavering.
That every decision about land use must begin from the premise that land is intrinsically valuable.
Now, I’m sorry to labour the point, but I want to be really clear here, because lots of people say this but they don’t always mean it:
For me, and my party, land is valuable for land’s own sake.
Not for what we can use it for, or how much money we can make out of it.
But simply because we value our natural environment.

That’s why we think it is vital that we map Britain’s biodiversity.
How can we decide where and how to develop unless we can assess the environmental value of land?

It’s why we understand the importance of greenfield land.
My party has a genuine commitment to green space
We don’t just mean monoculture fields.
We mean space that is rich in biodiversity…
That is accessible and open to our communities.
That could mean parks, gardens, woodlands, greenbelts…
We all have a right to the countryside.
And of course with that right comes responsibility.
Your own “Stop the Drop” anti-litter campaign is a reminder of that.

Our children and our grandchildren won’t respect natural England unless they grow up feeling that they have a stake in it.
Let’s treasure these spaces and teach future generations to treasure them too.

Re-engagement. Reconnection with our surroundings.
This is central to the work being undertaken by my Natural Environment Working Group.
Their findings will be the centrepiece of our Autumn conference next year.

“Greeness” also means that rural England plays its part in fighting climate change.
Tiny hamlets have as great a duty here as heaving metropolises.
All communities need to cut down on damaging carbon emissions.
And all communities need to help the shift away from harmful and precarious fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.

I know that onshore wind is hugely contentious in some parts of the country.
But what makes it worse is that we don’t have the debate.
Local communities aren’t given a voice, they aren’t listened to.
It’s wrong of this Government to exclude people from the decisions that affect them.
It breeds resentment and antagonism.

The fact is a new generation of nuclear power stations or more dirty coal isn’t good for anyone.
A sustainable, renewable future does mean some onshore wind, but it also means offshore wind, marine and tidal power, biogas and carbon capture…
And crucially, it means a revolution in energy efficiency in the home and in the work place.

So let’s make the right decisions.
Let’s engage local people in a planning system that does more than just pay lip service to the natural environment…
But that also champions the protection of the planet.

These aren’t easy balances to strike.
But they are not beyond us.

Accessible
The next balance we need to think about is social balance.
Let’s make rural communities accessible and fair.

I travel the country for my job.
I see very often how expensive some rural communities have become.
The Chilterns, Waverley, Uttlesford, East Hertfordshire…
Beautiful places.
Picture perfect.
The good life.

Unfortunately, completely inaccessible to most people.
Not so much ‘living the dream’, as ‘pipe dream’.

House prices have risen without control while rural wages have stayed low.
On average rural homes are 7 times yearly earnings.
More in places like East Devon, Kerrier, Penwith, North Norfolk, and across the South East.

That creates gated communities.
The preserve of wealthy second home owners.
I’ll bet many of you have sons and daughters who have struggled, or are still struggling, to get on the ladder?
The figures show that in some rural areas the numbers of first time buyers are dismal, like Bridgnorth and the Derbyshire dales.

Local people are forced to move away – that means the teacher from the local primary school, or staff from the local care home.
And when they go the village becomes little more than a dormitory.
These aren’t communities.
And this isn’t fair.

Rural England belongs to all of England.
Not just the best off…the people who can afford the privilege.

Everyone should have access to tranquillity…
Something you know all about…
Something your tranquillity mapping and campaigning has put on the political agenda.

Rural communities should be accessible communities.
Diverse, cohesive, open communities.

The only way that is going to happen is through housing.
The Conservatives’ Right-to-Buy programme saw over a million rural homes sold off.
The profits were banked by government instead of reinvested into new stock.
Now waiting lists are already 1.7m families long…
And tens of thousands more are facing repossession.

Rural England doesn’t have anywhere near enough social housing.
But the Treasury ties the hands of councils that want to provide more.
We need this stranglehold removed, immediately…
So that local authorities can build up the stock of social housing needed in their area.

And the answer isn’t just social housing.
True diversity, real accessibility, means communities that are made up of more than just the super rich on one hand and the very deprived on the other.
What about everyone in between?
Local firemen, the family who run the pub or the couple who own the post office?

They need homes they can afford.
But they don’t have the option.
I get annoyed when I hear people blame local planners.
I know from mine, here in Sheffield, how thankless their job can be.
Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to constantly have unrealistic targets barked at you from Whitehall and the region?
While you’re given no support to achieve them?

Our planning system, set up after the war, has achieved many things.
But it is being held back by this Government’s obsession with centralised power.
By arbitrary targets imposed from on high.
Centralised planning doesn’t work properly.
It’s inefficient and unaccountable.
You know that and so do we – that’s why we both made a stand against the Government’s Infrastructure Planning Commission.

The only way to get more affordable homes delivered is to give more power to the people who know best: local people.

We need much more participatory planning processes.
We need to empower a whole range of local groups, like parish councils, to lead affordable housing projects.
When it comes to centralised and to regional planning, we need to cut our losses.
Let’s suspend the ineffective target setting by unelected regional Government and Whitehall.
It doesn’t have local support.
If you talk to MPs from different regions across the different parties they’ll tell you it doesn’t have their backing.
And quite simply it isn’t delivering.

It’s very easy to bash the regions, I know that.
And all too frequently people have a pop without proposing an alternative.
But I am proposing an alternative.
Let’s empower and support local authorities working either alone or in clusters, and in meaningful consultation with local populations, to decide housing targets.

Let’s build our national housing target from local targets that reflect need on the ground.
That means trusting the people who know best rather than picking numbers out of the air.

Central government’s job then becomes avoiding national housing bubbles like the one that has just burst.
I’m a liberal, and I don’t believe politicians should control how markets grow.
But I do believe that the practices that underpin growth need to be regulated when they threaten the public good.
The present housing crisis shouldn’t just be a dip, a slump…
A hiccup after which we return to sky high prices.
We need a permanent end to irresponsible lending.
Monetary policy should be used to eradicate boom and bust in our housing market…
And the Bank of England should take house prices into account when calculating inflation.

Vibrant
Finally, I want to turn to this idea that rural communities should be vibrant.
There are a number of words I could use to describe what I mean.
Alive is one.
Thriving another.
But I think vibrant is best.
It’s about activity that is in harmony with the tranquillity of the countryside.

Vibrant rural communities contain the services people need.
Local shops, GPs, job centres…
My party never underestimates the value of these services to the neighbourhoods they serve.
We understand that for pensioners and single parents living in isolated parts of the country they are a life line.

Vibrant rural communities are also those that are economically active.
They contain jobs, opportunities, prosperity.

It is a tragedy that the economic potential in rural England has not been harnessed.
That rural business hasn’t been supported…
That it hasn’t been allowed to flourish.

I don’t just mean our poor farmers…
Who have had to deal with one debacle after another.
But beyond farming, rural England is fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
The spread of broadband has given a huge boost to rural business.

But despite evidence showing more ambition amongst businesses in villages and small towns…
More of them fail.
Because they don’t get any real help from Government.
The same Government that provides a multi billion bailout for bankers…
But is not doing enough for small businesses across the country.

We need to support rural business and encourage rural prosperity.
We should be encouraging the conversion of disused workspaces for business, rather than letting perfectly good buildings stand empty.

And we should be supporting local industry.
Now I don’t believe in protectionism, at any level, on any scale.
But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging communities to support local produce.
I think people should take pride in local products: cabinets produced by local carpenters; or cheese that comes from their region; meat and vegetables from the local farm.

Local production networks don’t just create jobs…
They don’t just make money for local people…
But crucially they are better for the environment.
Fostering a culture of buying local supports local food webs.
Potentially much more sustainable because produce travels shorter distances.

I know that these are areas of research that CPRE is pioneering.
The kind of research that is crucial if we are to develop an overall strategy for food security.
We have wonderful natural resources in this country…
An incredible capacity to produce high quality food…
Let’s not waste that.

And let’s not waste the huge opportunities for tourism in the countryside.
Of course, the impacts on the local environment must always be considered.
But encouraging appropriate tourism doesn’t just make money for the local population, it feeds in to a sense of local pride.
National pride in fact.
This country has world class landscapes.
Have you heard that the Peak District is the second most visited national park in the world after Mount Fuji National Park in Japan?
I remember reading that somewhere, and it’s probably an appropriate point for me to wrap up.
I started by boasting about Sheffield so I’ll end on the same note.

Today I have tried to set out the Liberal Democrat vision for rural England.
And I hope I have made it clear that it is based on our values: our green goals, fairness and accessibility, and prosperity.
And underpinning it all is a central belief that local people know best.
This vision is how we want the countryside to look.
And these values are central to who we are.

We will never ignore the needs of rural Britain, especially not now as recession descends.
We will never imagine that Whitehall solutions for the inner cities will work in hamlets, villages and market towns.
We will never take our natural heritage for granted.

On behalf of my party, I look forward to working with you to uphold these values and to protect our countryside and its communities.
The time and energy you have devoted to their cause is deeply admirable…
And the nation is better off for it.
Thank you for listening.

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26 responses

  1. Howard Thomas

    Oh dear! Once more, a largely vacuous speech, similar to that from Mr Cameron. The title ‘Rural Recession’ probably dictated the content. The passage entitled ‘Green’ was going very well and one began to feel encouraged. Then we had all this stuff about promoting house building in the countryside. There was no word on the environmental sustainability of the consequences of all those extra car journeys, let alone the further unnecessary urbanising of villages. Mr Clegg should look at the studies of patterns of commuting and shopping by rural dwellers before he promotes yet more urbanising of what is left of our countryside.
    Had he stressed the difference between providing development to sustain existing services in the market towns, as opposed to expanding the villages, I would have been with him all the way.

    Still, it is good that all major parties have delivered a viewpoint – I know which one I prefer! CPRE is about land use, not social engineering.

    18 November, 2008 at 12:27 pm

  2. Dan McLean

    Dear Mr Clegg,

    Could you say how you believe British farmers will play a role in the vision you have outlined?

    Thank you.

    18 November, 2008 at 12:44 pm

  3. Ray Millard

    Until the politicians stop importing more people than they export, there will be unstoppable pressure for more and more houses, business parks of massive sheds, and sprawling industrial estates.
    The mainstream politicians will never grasp that particular nettle.

    22 November, 2008 at 4:59 pm

  4. Gill Stride

    I’d be interested to know what ideas Mr Clegg has for engaging young people with the countryside. How can we make urban young people (and rural, for that matter) see that the countryside is not boring, that it has something for them and that it is worth protecting?

    25 November, 2008 at 10:00 am

  5. Dr Phillip Bratby

    Same old tired cliches:

    ‘“Greeness” also means that rural England plays its part in fighting climate change.’ How can anyone fight the enormous forces of nature? The climate has always changed and always will; all we can do is hope to adapt to the changes, be they warming, or more likely, cooling.

    ‘all communities need to help the shift away from harmful and precarious fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy’. Where is the evidence that fossil fuel are harmful? There is no evidence in physics.

    ‘The fact is a new generation of nuclear power stations or more dirty coal isn’t good for anyone.’ New power stations are good for everyone. When we run out of reliable electricity (intermittent renewables aren’t reliable when we need the most power), then people will die of hypothermia and society as we know it will rapidly start to unravel. Think “civil unrest” when the lights start to go out on a regular basis.

    25 November, 2008 at 11:55 am

  6. Pat Blackburn

    As I commented before, after David Cameron’s speech, it is a pity that these blogs always bring out the dedicated band of climate change deniers. Why are some people so keen to deny climate change, and to bang on about it at every turn.

    I still haven’t found a better explanation than that by Robin McKie in his Observer review of Nigel Lawson’s book ‘An Appeal to Reason’: “What really grates is Lawson’s conviction that most of the world’s climatologists, meteorologists, atmospheric physicists, Arctic experts, and biologists, as well several Nobel Prize winners, are all stupid, misguided and wrong in thinking manmade global warming is real. By contrast, Lawson … is virtually the only one with the brains to work out the Truth.

    “It is breathtaking arrogance, to say the least, although Lawson is not alone in displaying it. Several other individuals, usually male, elderly, and right wing, still deny climate change is happening, mainly because they cannot stand the thought that greenies may be right and that we will have to curtail our use of big cars, international flights and other carbon-boosting luxuries. These Grumpy Old Deniers feel their lifestyles are threatened by greenies and so reject the entire concept of global warming.”

    Full marks to Nick Clegg for saying that rural England should play its part in combating climate change: it has to!

    25 November, 2008 at 5:02 pm

  7. Elizabeth Mann

    In 1999 a letter from Lilli Matson CPRE was published in the Times

    Extract
    The solution does not lie inweakening planning protection for the countryside, but in ruling out environmentally damaging schemes from the start and developing a wider range of renewable technologies

    This is not so much about landscape preservationists triumphing over green-energy developers as about failure of successive governments to deliver effective policies to expand renewable energy.

    This is as relevant now as it was then and even mor eurgent with the successive attempts to weaken the planning system Taking away from people who will be affected by developments,the right to make valid objections,is undemocratic

    Poeple have a right to he peaceful enjoyment of their own homes

    29 November, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  8. Colin Quinn

    Another politician trotting out tired old mantra without any real thought about an achievable, reliable energy policy.

    However, I do agree that local communities are not consulted oner onshore wind turbine installations. We have recent experience of that in Seamer, North Yorks. on top of that local authorities are hell bent on achieving their Government Targets for Renewable Energy without too much thought to the people they are meant to represent.

    1 December, 2008 at 9:12 am

  9. Richard Cowen

    “Why are some people so keen to deny climate change, and to bang on about it at every turn” asks Pat Blackburn. Yet where do I find any evidence here of anyone challenging climate change?

    What I do see is some reasoned questions of what we do about it. And in particular do we seek to place more and more wind turbines in our countryside when there is evidence that they are not achieving the claims made for them, either in electricity generation or saving CO2 emissions. Or do we have more reliable conventional power stations (and, one does have to say, nuclear), with all regulation of course to make them as clean as possible (and hopefully adaptable to take on board carbon capture as and when it is developed to make them cleaner still)

    Clearly not all of Nick Clegg’s speech is about climate change and renewable energy, but this is a significant part of it. What now must concern us is the passing of the Planning Bill and the removal of democratic consideration for certain major developments. And if the House of Lords recommendation is met, it will also affect smaller renewable energy projects. And any power we did have to challenge these decisions in the courts, assuming this is found to be Human Rights compatible.

    So I do not see Grumpy Old Deniers when people challenge all the efforts to affect our countryside (and indeed now seascape) with turbines (by far the most common form of renewable energy) because they question all the claims of the climate doom-mongers and in particular question the effectiveness of these machines in combating the problem, real or perceived. Perhaps we need more of them to bring a touch of reality to this particular topic.

    I do not have a problem with making power stations subject to the strictest regulations re emissions. I do have a problem with intermittent renewable energy that is unlikely to solve our energy problems but scar the landscape while operating

    1 December, 2008 at 10:33 pm

  10. Dr Phillip Bratby

    As I was the only person to mention climate change before Pat Blackburn, I presume that I am one of the “the dedicated band of climate change deniers”. However, if she read what I wrote, then she will have noticed that I said “The climate has always changed and always will”. As a scientist I understand why the climate changes and goes through periods of warming followed by periods of cooling. What I object to is politicians and the media forever ramming down my throat meaningless phrases such as ‘tackling climate change’. I was not going to say any more on the topic, however, now that Pat Blackburn has objected to my comment, I feel duty bound to explain my position on this issue.

    Having studied the science and the scientific evidence, I have no doubt that man’s impact on the climate is miniscule. I will explain why. CO2 may be a ‘greenhouse gas’, but it absorbs infra-red radiation only in a very narrow wave-band (due to the linear structure of a carbon dioxide molecule, meaning it can only increase its energy by vibration, not rotation). There is only a limited amount of infra-red radiation in that narrow band, and the amount is already almost completely absorbed by the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore we can add as much CO2 to the atmosphere as we like and it makes negligible difference to the temperature of the atmosphere (as has been shown by measurement).

    Pat Blackburn’s quote about “most of the world’s climatologists, meteorologists, atmospheric physicists, Arctic experts, and biologists, as well several Nobel Prize winners” is also false. There are only a few hundred such people and there are tens of thousands of scientists who do not accept what the politicians are saying. In any case, in science it does not matter how many people say this or that, because science does not progress on the basis of a majority or a voting system. Science is based on evidence. Even the world’s political leaders in the promotion of man-made global warming, the IPCC, have not produced any evidence to link CO2 with global temperature changes. The IPCC’s statements are opinions based on computer models and are not based on evidence.

    The real evidence is that the earth’s climate is driven by the sun and the vast amount of energy stored in the oceans, not by a trace gas in the atmosphere. The sun has recently gone into a quiet mode (low sunspot activity) and the major ocean currents have recently entered their cooling mode. So expect a prolonged period of global cooling (maybe 30 years or so), which no amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere will alter. The good news is that the extra CO2 is good for plant growth.

    Has anybody else already noticed how the climate seems to have got worse in the last couple of years? Glaciers have started expanding again after the long glacial retreat due to the gradual warming following the Little Ice Age, which was at its worst 400 years ago. Sea levels have started falling, although you’ll probably not read about that in the papers or see it mentioned on the TV.

    Enough said, I’d better sign off as a “Grumpy Old Denier”.

    2 December, 2008 at 11:52 am

  11. Chris H

    Why do people never understand that not all country-dwellers are rich, retired folk? Those of us who have owned our rural homes over two and half decades have had no control over the rocketing values. It is not our fault that villages are expensive, yet we are treated like dirt and viewed as selfish brats who are interested only in lining our pockets. What do you want me to do, sell up and buy a tent? Perhaps there are many who would prefer that all houses became worthless? As for this business about wealthy second-home owners, has anyone stopped to consider that many reviled “secondhome owners” are actually housing a needy family relative in them? Often for next to nothing? That certainly applies to us and if we didn’t do it then that relative might well be out on the street seeking welfare. I think there is an immense amount of jealousy stirred up in the public domain on this issue and it’s about time it was stopped.

    My own very small village actually has built a small number of affordable homes within its boundary; there are several farms and a few small businesses, but certainly nothing that warrants an influx of anything much more in terms of cheap housing.
    Many politicians are keen to “force” the enlargement of villages and hamlets….everything is “forced” upon us these days, have you noticed?…without paying any regard to the effect that modern developments have upon the visual appearance of those villages and the consequences of extra traffic in narrow country lanes. Building more and more houses in the countryside to “save” the rural economy seems a total contradiction; it simply destroys the very landscape that one purports to admire and cherish; and it also makes builders happy because green fields are cheaper to buy.

    Most villages probably have scope for the inclusion of a small number of cheaper properties, but it must be kept in proportion to the actual local demand. They should initially be for people who actually work in the area, followed probably by elderly or disabled who require care from a family member. Youngsters invariably move away from home eventually, once they have secured a better salary.

    Rural areas offer tranquillity and an escape from city life. Maintaining the quality of rural areas requires careful thought when it comes to building more houses; otherwise villages turn into towns and towns then flow into neighbouring cities, defeating the whole object; there is a natural tendency for new developments to “flow together” after a number of years.

    Encouraging rural enterprise and home-based businesses is a sound enough idea, as long as those businesses do not start becoming giants or affecting the general country nature of an area. Tourism in the UK relies heavily on the natural environment; and I would agree that local communities ought to be un-gagged and allowed much more freedom in debating what does and doesn’t get developed.

    Energy is a sore subject with me. I consider wind-farms en masse to be ridiculous and an appalling eye-sore. Used in “small doses” for communities or industrial sites they no doubt have their saving graces (when the wind blows); but the siting of them has been prone to bitter debate, especially when involving those monstrous 300-foot high ones. The technology surrounding the use of hydrogen really needs to be developed further; it appears forgotten. Fusion is still under research. Nuclear isn’t liked by many, but at the moment we don’t have much else that is reliable. Wave power is something that could prove very useful but there are environmental concerns. The RSPB has shown some support for a reef-type tidal barrage that appears to offer less problems for wildlife and they should be listened to.

    I do not like to think of the consequences of the new Planning Laws, if indeed they totally remove the rights of local communities to have their say. We have already seen gipsy camps proposed at people’s back doors, rather than in sensibly-selected locations; and local councils bullied into agreeing to airport expansion plans; not to mention the Heathrow debacle. I would have thought this is a time for all Opposition parties to stand together.

    2 December, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  12. Andy Yuille

    Overall I think Nick Clegg sets out a vision for the countryside that complements CPRE’s, where people live and work and communities thrive, in landscapes and settlements that are valued and protected for their character and distinctivess, but where change is allowed and indeed encouraged where it maintains or enhances that character. That’s a high-level statement of intent, and I look forward to seeing detailed policy proposals from the Lib Dems that would deliver that vision.

    Could the Lib Dems spearhead a campaign to retro-fit all existing homes to the highest practicable level of energy efficiency, plus installation of micogeneration technologies as appropriate? Maybe starting with social housing and then moving progressively through council tax bands (as a proxy for income)? Around 60% of the average household’s energy use is for space heating. Another 25% is hot water.

    This would touch on each of Nick’s three themes. Massive reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions. Reductions in fuel bills – and fuel poverty is a particular problem in rural areas with older, energy-inefficient, hard-to-treat properties. And this would make properties more suitable for home-working; having people working in rural communities, even part-time, would add to their vibrancy and to the demand for local services – a virtuous circle.

    It would also create tens of thousands of new jobs at a time of recession, stimulate local economies, boost demand for production of relevant materials and technologies – as well as R&D into improved technologies, techniques & products – and lead to the development of new skills. All this in the industry that has, apart from banking, been hit hardest by the downturn. If Government wants to spend its way out of recession, this would be a good way to start. It would be cheaper, more economically effective and more sustainable than bringing forward public investment in road-building, which is likely to be the solution that Government jumps to first.

    Do we need more homes in rural communities – villages as well as market towns? Yes, in some (many!) cases. How else can we support the services that we also say we want? Should this be based on local assessments of need, on case-by-case basis, with the real involvement from the start of local communities and their representatives (eg parish councils)? Yes. Should they be sensitively designed to reflect local character and distinctiveness? Yes. Should they lead to the urbanisation of rural settlements? No. Should they be delivered through a plan-led system that balances social, environmental and economic objectives? Yes. Is any of this rocket science? No. We can’t say no to change, we must instead set out a positive vision for what we want that change to consist of.

    Climate change? Politicians have only just started to take serious notice – scientists have been saying pretty much the same thing for about two decades. The record of published, peer-reviewed papers gives an objective view of the thinking of the scientific community – and it is by an overwhelming majority that climate change is happening and is being caused, at least in part, by greenhouse gas emissions.

    But that really doesn’t matter. Because the actions we need to take to mitigate and adapt to climate change are the ones we are going to have to take anyway. Our patterns of consumption and production, based on massive and inefficient use of fossil fuels, water and a wide range of other resources, will soon cease to be economically, let alone environmentally viable. The fossil fuel resources do not exist (or at least, are not extractable at an acceptable economic and environmental cost) to sustain current levels of energy consumption at anywhere near current prices for another generation, much less accommodate the rapidly-increasing demands of China, India etc.

    Wind power will be a part of the energy mix for the next decade. How much of a part is a matter for debate, and CPRE will continue to play an important part in that debate. But if we allow ourselves to be seen as people who just say no we will lose credibility.

    2 December, 2008 at 4:37 pm

  13. Elizabeth Mann

    Three statements from Nick Clegg’s speech I applaud and they reassure me that perhaps we may yet be able to protect that valued asset, land, for future generations to enjoy

    1) “For me and my party, land is valuable for land’s own sake. Not for what we can use it for or how much money we can make out of it. But simply because we value our natural environment”

    2) “I know that onshore wind is hugely contentious in some parts of the country.
    Local communities aren’t given a voice, they aren’t listened to.
    It’s wrong of this Government to exclude people from the decisions that affect them.
    It breeds resentment and antagonism You know that and so do we – that’s why we both made a stand against the Government’s Infrastructure Planning Commission”

    3) “Everyone should have access to tranquillity…Something your tranquillity mapping and campaigning has put on the political agenda”

    These comments seem to represent exactly what CPRE stands for, protection of the countryside, tranquillity and people’s quality of life

    However I wish to draw attention the publication ‘Mapping Tranquillity’ Page 38 has a list of perceived non –natural features in the landscape,that detract from tranquillity The list includes wind farms.

    Everyone has a right to the peaceful enjoyment of their own home. This right is being destroyed as wind turbines now up to 400ft are being erected too close to homes. Some residents are experiencing problems with noise, flicker, worry about the value of their homes and safety problems due to the potential and yet unsolved effect of wind turbines on radar.

    Finally, Andy Yuille says “But if we allow ourselves to be seen as people who just say no we will lose credibility” One loses credibility if we lose track of why we need to say no.

    2 December, 2008 at 9:10 pm

  14. Phil Bray

    You are all looking the wrong way. There is one promblem for the human populaton of the world, there are too many of us and we reproduce too quickly. The human population is increasing by 5 every two seconds, that adds up to 77 million extra people every year. It has increased from 2 billion to 7 billion in one hundred years. It is predicted to double in the next 40 years. Arguments about the desirability of tranquil spaces, CO2 emissions, climate change, affordable housing etc. etc. will all seem trivial when we see the collapse of society because there is just not enough food or drinking water to go round. From the moment we discovered how to prevent the problems that controlled human numbers, malaria, plague, etc, we became responible for controlling our own numbers, a fact that has yet to be acknowledged by most governments.

    3 December, 2008 at 6:25 pm

  15. Edward Stokes

    Much as I don’t want to pay to use the roads, the congestion where I live (Manchester) is so bad that I’d be willing to consider the idea. But the biggest problem with the ideas discussed here is that it puts the cart before the horse. Charging people to use the roads to create a hypothecated fund to pay for public transport sounds fine, until you realise that it takes several years for funds to flow in, for new public transport to start up, and for people to begin to change their habits and start using the public transport. In the intervening period, all you get is more tax and nothing visible – just more congestion and more cost! And by the time the benefits start to be felt, there’s been a change of government and the new government is elected on a mandate to remove the road charges. It’s a classic problem, that can only be solved in the long run by public funding for public transportation, and by reducing the distance that people have to travel, which means more village shops and more work in villages! How you make that happen I don’t know – perhaps Mr Clegg has some ideas?

    6 December, 2008 at 7:50 pm

  16. Suzanne Richards

    I live in a Gate House the surround is two acres of land that belongs to English partnerships (i.e.government, we tried to buy it 23 years ago, No the answer)it’s full of wild life the entrance to Northampton the only bit of green and is a green site.I have cared for it as I live on it.Now they(WNDC) want to put 38 affordable houses around us!we have redlegged partridge, pheasants, foxes, badgers, muntjac deer in our garden,wild birds galore, owls I could go on, some would say how lovely some would show a green eye.With 38 houses it will mean not only has my life to change but also the wild life. This little space is on the edge of the town on a busy A43 and the largest roundabout and busiest in the town,so in reality who would want to live there.Yes there may be a need for affordable houses but by using up little spaces where there are no amenities or bus or road cross, school, doctor,you name, it is nonsensical.We need to save the environment but what are they doing: fufilling their job description. The most interesting statistic obtained that I have in Northampton on 4th December 2008,there were 3,883 empty properties (courtesy Npton council) that includes rental, newbuild and private so why destroy my life and the animals at thorpeville Northampton for 38 houses(176 beds and at least 76 cars)

    6 December, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  17. Anne Robinson

    1. The Lib Dems believe in ‘putting power in local hands’. But where would Nick draw the line? Local people are a huge source of knowledge but tend to resist change. Would the sum of all the local views give us the future that we need? Should a cluster of small villages and hamlets re-write the regional spatial plan?

    2. Nick said ‘Rural England is a fertile ground for enterprise’ and drew on examples of local produce and tourism. Should development in rural areas be related to the traditional functions of the countryside – managing essential natural resources and public amenity, producing food and timber ? Or should there be development purely to encourage any enterprise or to get a critical population mass to support local services?

    3. The Peak District has depended largely on farmers for its creation and management. In the face of global market pressures upland livestock farming as we know it may be unable to adapt and survive. When the agri-environment grants disappear, trade barriers go down and what remains of traditional farming regroups/amalgamates/intensifies to maximise food production in the face of competing interests where will that leave our landscapes and wildlife, the tourist industry that depends on them, and local produce? In that context how would Nick see the future of the Peak District – what would it be contributing to the life of the nation, who would be managing it, who would be living, there what would it look like?

    7 December, 2008 at 6:22 pm

  18. Elizabeth Mann

    Gill asks what ideas Nick Clegg has for engaging young people with the countryside,showing it has something for them and that it is worth protecting?

    Scouts,guides,Duke of Edinburgh award schemes,outdoor pursuit centres and of course parents, have for years have introduced young people to the countryside. This valuable unrenewable resource needs only to be visited to experience what it has to offer and why it needs protecting for future generations to enjoy

    7 December, 2008 at 10:06 pm

  19. Phillip Bratby

    Dear Nick,

    I believe you will be replying to the posts here. Since a wrote to you in the summer and received no reply, I thought I would post here and see if I get a response this way.

    In your vision you use the words “fighting climate change”. I recently listened to you being interviewed about this on the news by Peter Sissons and the discussion went roughly as follows:

    Peter Sissons asked you about the current cooling trend and revisiting the science of climate change you said
    “I am not a scientist but I think we have been told so comprehensively by the largest panel of scientists, the United Nations panel and here of course by Nicholas Stern’s report a year or so ago that all the signs point very emphatically towards a spiral of deteriorating climate change.”
    When Peter Sissons pressed that the global temperatures had not gone up for 10 years you replied:
    “That is a fact that is disputed by the international climate change panel.”
    and
    “I would dispute that very strongly, but I think all the science is now as much of a consensus as one could possibly hope from scientists that urgent action is required if we are not to reap much greater instability in the climate in the decades ahead.”

    There are two things that strike me about your responses to Peter Sissons.
    Firstly you state that you are not a scientist and yet you refer to a political body (the IPCC) and an ecomomist (Nicholas Stern) for the scientific basis of your statements. That strikes me as odd.
    Secondly you seem to believe that science works like politics, i.e. it is consensus that counts. Science does not work by consensus. It works on the falsifiability of theory based on evidence. Scientists do not vote to decide which theory is correct.
    Even if that was the way science works, there is no consensus on climate change, because tens of thousands of scientists around the world dispute the political findings of the IPCC which are that “it is very likely that we are causing man-made global warming”. There is no evidence for man-made global warming and there is no physical basis for the presumption that the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is having anything other than a minor impact on the climate. The scientific evidence is that the climate is changing naturally, just as it always has. In fact many scientists independent of the political interference of the IPCC are strongly of the opinion that natural effects (ocean cycles and sunspot activity) are causing the global cooling referred to by Peter Sissons and that the cooling may last for several decades. There is nothing we can do to prevent it; all we can do is try and prepare for the hardships it will bring.

    8 December, 2008 at 9:49 am

  20. Barbara Haddon

    I like a lot of what was said at the speech in Sheffield, but I was dismayed when Nick Clegg appeared to climb down from his support for renewable energy in the questions and answers. He said (from memory) that local people should be able to veto wind turbines, which is very liberal and tolerant but is handing the baton to the NIMBYs! We won’t have enough renewable power to help stop climate change if we don’t build more wind turbines and start doing it now. Don’t listen to the deniers!

    8 December, 2008 at 4:58 pm

  21. Clare Wiedmaier

    I live along a small road in a very rural part of Hampshire and was dismayed to hear Nick Clegg talking about charging for road use on ‘main arterial routes’. All this will do is increase the traffic on smaller roads – lorries with sat nav cutting through the village was bad enough! What about the quality of life of rural residents?

    16 December, 2008 at 6:26 pm

  22. Rob Watson

    Dear Mr Clegg,

    I was very interested to hear your thoughts on moving away from housing as an investment, or as a financial product. You talked about how re-regulating banks and ensuring that house prices are included in the Government’s preferred measure of inflation. What does this mean in practice, though? A bit of re-regulation and some tweaks to the way we measure inflation doesn’t strike me as being sufficient to move Britain from veneration of home-ownership toward, for example, a German disinterest in property. How would you actually go about changing the housing market?

    21 December, 2008 at 12:08 pm

  23. John Hoare

    I found Nick Clegg’s talk interesting and generally encouraging.

    I think that all political leaders are ignoring important aspects of housing. I agree that local authorities should be assisted to build homes again but we should also analyse our losses. In the countryside (and I have experience of this in the south-west as well as Yorkshire), the ordinary housing which used to serve local workers has frequently been sold as second homes, whose contribution to the local economy is minimal. While there are ways to restore affordable housing on a permanent basis into the countryside, why do our politicians ignore the anti-social aspects of second homes? I don’t expect anyone to ban them but surely they need not be encouraged by Council Tax rebates, grant of mortgages, etc.? Give local authorities teeth to discourage their proliferation and their number will diminish. Also when are the opportunities for ‘living over the shop’ going to be taken seriously in our market towns, and also in our urban conurbations?

    Doing away with the excessive centralisation of the Thatcher/Blair/Brown years is of course a good idea, although one has to be careful (giving planning decision-making powers to parishes, for example, would be fraught with danger). I would like to see a bonfire of Government imposed targets on local authorities – they distort whatever service they are supposed to improve and are usually unattainable. If we really want to bolster local democracy and get people involved, local government has to raise as well as spend its money and we have to get away from the nonsense that services must be the same everywhere (what about banning the phrase ‘postcode lottery’?) – we would soon vote if we thought it mattered to our pockets as well as our services!

    23 December, 2008 at 3:59 pm

  24. David Cowdery

    Rural recession – the right title for the speech, if you ask me. It’s already here in south Devon. But everyone is talking about how hard it’s going to be and not about what to do. For farmers, prices are down and costs are up and for all the talk about being green it’s next to impossible to get into the HLS even though my farm qualified for Countryside Stewardship payments.

    2 January, 2009 at 11:11 am

  25. Jim Wright

    I didn’t manage to attend the speech, but read it through and listened to some of the speeches. I thought it was a good, forward looking speech from a party that doesn’t get enough attention in the media – great ideas like reopening rural rail lines and making larger users of energy pay more as they consume more are the green ideas that we need to make a reality, if we want to avoid climate change and prevent despotic regimes from providing all our energy in the future. The trouble is, how much does it cost? And can we afford it when this government is giving all our money to the banks?

    4 January, 2009 at 10:32 am

  26. Neil Sinden

    Nick’s wide-ranging speech was welcome and covered many of the issues facing the countryside today – not least the twin-challenges of climate change and the economic downturn. I was particularly encouraged by recognition of the intrinsic value of land ‘for its own sake’, and the importance of the environmental value of land. It was also pleasing that he gave so much emphasis to the role of land use planning in helping us reconcile conflicting objectives.

    I was hoping for a bit more detail, however, about how the current planning system, which many believe to be near breaking point through lack of resources in local planning authorities and over-complex new rules, needs to be reformed to deliver better outcomes – for the environment and rural communities. Precisely how would the Lib Dems improve the current system of strategic regional planning, or would they really abolish it altogether? How would they improve the local planning process? Do they still support the introduction of a restriced third party right of appeal against certain planning decisions? I weclome the party’s opposition to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, but how would they fashion an effective and democratic system for making those crucial decisions on the development of major infrastructure? And precisely how would they ensure the natural environment is valued more in the plannning process?

    The way we use and value land makes a vital if unrecognised contribution to the quality of life of us all. The land use planning system has generally served us well for over 50 years. We need to build a new popular consensus around the purpose and process of plannning if we are to rise to the serious economic and environmental challenges we currently face. The Lib Dems under Nick Clegg’s leadership could play a valuable role in forging that consensus, but I would like to see a few more sspecific commitments before I can be confident of that.

    8 January, 2009 at 10:17 am