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Kevin FitzGerald, honorary director of the Hertfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), tells Louise McEvoy about the campaign group's aims, challenges and successes in its bid to protect the county's countryside
What is CPRE and when was it established?
The Campaign to Protect Rural England was set up in 1926 as The Council for the Preservation of Rural England. It has been through two name changes since then, reflecting changes in the emphasis of its activities. It is a national charity, with a branch in every county, working through the planning system to protect Britains beautiful countryside. The patron is Her Majesty the Queen. The Hertfordshire branch was formed in 1928 by a group of people concerned at the rising tide of ugliness of development in the inter-war years.
When did you get involved in CPRE Hertfordshire?
I was invited to join by the late Brigadier Freddie de Butts when I was appointed a deputy lieutenant in 1983, but little did I know that I would one day fill his shoes as honorary director. My interest in countryside protection came about when, as a junior civil servant in the 1960s, I worked for the National Parks Commission. At that time the National Parks had been established, but some Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were in the process of designation.
What is your role?
As honorary director I am in effect the voluntary chief executive officer, responsible for the operation of the branch, campaigning and media relations.
What are the main threats to the Hertfordshire countryside at the moment?
The main threats at present are proposals for major housing development, notably in the Green Belt around Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston, north of Harlow, and the huge Strategic Rail Freight Interchange in the Green Belt at Park Street, south of St Albans.
What has been the biggest victory in Hertfordshire for CPRE?
Our biggest recent success was to fight off a proposal by Luton Borough Council to include thousands of houses and a bypass in the beautiful North Hertfordshire Green Belt around Lilley Bottom in its Development Plan Core Strategy. We achieved this by setting up and supporting a local campaign group which included residents from Luton as well as the villages which would have been swallowed up.
Does CPRE Hertfordshire have any major projects on its hands currently?
In addition to our ongoing work of scrutinising and commenting on emerging district development plans, our current major project is Plan YOUR Place free information events for communities and individuals who want to be involved in neighbourhood planning as provided for in the Localism Act. We are working with the Hertfordshire Association of Parish and Town Councils and the project is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government. We are also in the early stages of organising this years Hertfordshire Village of the Year competition and associated childrens poster competition. This is all about celebrating and encouraging community spirit in our villages. Its an uplifting experience both for participants and judges.
How can people get involved with CPRE?
CPRE is a membership organisation, financed by subscriptions, donations and legacies. We welcome new members who can, if they wish, become active volunteers in a variety of roles. Anyone with planning expertise would be particularly valuable in our busy planning team. Visit www.cpreherts.org.uk for more information.
What do you consider to be the best view in Hertfordshire?
This is a difficult question as there are so many attractive views. My favourite is probably looking across the Old Bourne valley from Benington. It is typical Hertfordshire countryside: tranquil, green, wooded, undulating and with the chance to see a herd of deer.
Where is the best walk in the county?
Again this is a personal choice from among so many excellent walks, but one I have done often is a 12-mile circuit round the four villages of Rushden, Sandon, Wallington and Clothall. This has everything: woods, valleys, extensive views mixed with intimate landscapes, interesting old churches and a fine old village pub. What better way to finish?