The past few weeks have been busy ones in the political calendar, with three party conferences involving hundreds of fringe events, countless cups of tea (and champagne) and numerous speeches, some career defining, some not, from Ministers and MPs. The National Trust was present at all three of the major party conferences representing the views of our supporters in the planning reform debate.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, spoke at one of our events in Birmingham at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference. Before introducing Nick Clegg, she reminded us all of the severity of the weeks to come for the future of our countryside. With the consultation well underway and discussions in full swing over the direction of the NPPF, she emphasised that at present the planning reforms do not support localism, nor can they protect our environment.
We also had stalls at the Labour and Conservative Conferences, which allowed us to talk about the planning reforms with members of the parties, MPs and ministers. So well-recieved was our stand at Labour that we received the Organisers’ Choice award for Best Stand.
At the Conservative Party Conference the National Trust refreshments drew a large crowd, even attracting the likes of Eric Pickles and Bob Neill to the stand. The mood was positive in regards to planning, with Ministers backtracking over their previously aggresive stance. Pickles stated that “Our countryside is one of the best things that makes Britain great, and we will protect it” whilst Neill accepted that the NPPF still has room for improvement, and that it was “never meant to be a charter for inappropriate development.” We also had some really encouraging responses from members and councillors, many voicing support for the campaign and signing our petition.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, National Trust Director General, was present alongside Shaun Spiers, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Oliver Letwin MP and Charles Moore of The Daily Telegraph on the panel of paper’s fringe debate on planning. It was a great forum for discussion, and while Fiona Reynolds was able to emphasis the atmosphere of peace and reconciliation, she did not loose sight of the potential effects of the NPPF – some of which are already beginning to emerge.
The increasingly co-operative tone was consolidated by the presentation of a hamper of National Trust goodies to Oliver Letwin by Fiona Reynolds, to be shared with Eric Pickles who has confessed a penchant for National Trust tea and scones.