AGM report 2023
Forty members of the Branch attended and got to have a quick wander around the site before the meeting started and see first hand some of the features, like ‘Lady Felice’s leap’, the promontory at the top of the cliff that Felice was reputed to have thrown herself off in the tenth century and the charred ruin that remains of the Georgian building and its Victorian extensions, following the fire that Granada Studios and its film crew (filming an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’ the Last Vampire) created turning simulated pyrotechnics into a raging real fire.
Sir Andrew Watson formally welcomed all and then Judith Cobham Lowe, after thanking attendees for coming and particularly our volunteer planning officers for the tireless work they do in protecting the Warwickshire countryside. Judith pointed out that they had worked on in excess of 200 planning applications during 2022, from the small to the barmy – a quarry 400 yards from a primary school or an anaerobic digester blighting the view from Edgehill and Sunrising hill in the south of the county. She then gave a review of 2022/23. We had seen a glut of applications for solar farms on good agricultural land during 20022 and this had continued into this year. It seemed incomprehensible why they were not sited on roof tops, car parks, by motorways and brownfield land. The Government should legislate to ensure that all new houses were equipped with solar panels at the very least.
On going issues were the battle being waged in Solihull over its defective Local Plan. Progress was slow, but Jean Walters was to be congratulated for her persistence and for gathering support from the local MP, Saqib Bhatti and the mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street. The South Warwickshire Local Plan, that called for 35,000 houses to be built in the Districts of Warwick and Stratford upon Avon also caught our attention – unsurprisingly, and we had held successful meetings with both Councils and their heads, but more about this next year.
We were reminded of the trips to Sezincote and Rousham and last year’s Fun Ride, attracting a good number of riders.
The business side of the meeting was completed with the re-election of our Hon. Treasurer, Justin Whitehorn, and Executive Committee members.
Questions were taken and covered subjects such as river water quality, solar panels on listed buildings, renewable sources of energy and a pertinent one about why there was never any mention of Rugby BC in our reports (we have no Planning Officer for the Borough, but try to answer members queries as and when they are brought to our attention: and subsequent to the meeting we have ‘advertised’ for help with the local U3A organisation and might have better news to report soon). It was then time for our guest speaker. Roger Mortlock, Chief Executive of National CPRE was introduced.
He spoke amusingly about his past with GWR radio, the RSC and SDC planning when the theatre went through its changes. He most recently worked at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust where he first got involved with farming, planning and the countryside so moving to CPRE seemed a natural progression, with its history of the greenbelt development and National Parks.
Roger spoke of four key themes for our future work: the upcoming centenary of the Charity and the need to inject the voice of youngsters into CPRE which would give us more legitimacy, the greenbelt and the need to re-imagine the concept (stopping urban sprawl was not enough and we might use the ‘countryside next door’ as a concept, ‘Countryside pollution’ and by that he meant we are good at calling out the bad, whether place or design, but we needed to find solutions as to what ‘good’ looks like, and finally the need to build up our movement.
Roger kindly took questions on subjects as diverse as HS2, the importance of urban development, whether Warwickshire was similar to other Branches in what concerned them, Wildlife Trust membership numbers compared with CPRE’s, a pledge to increase our income (politely declined!), CPRE’s view on factory versus traditional house building methods and support for Local Government, Planning departments, Local and Neighbourhood Plans.
The meeting concluded and refreshments were then taken.