Meet Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director
PUBLISHED: 08:26 16 November 2014 | UPDATED: 08:35 16 November 2014
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Campaigning for a Kent countryside under pressure from development but also working closely with developers to ensure projects like Ebbsfleet Garden City are the best they can be
Hilary Newport is not the sort of environmentalist who wants to be labelled a tree-hugger or to squat, protesting, in front of a police vehicle.
But neither does she wish to be accused of being a Nimby or someone who says “No” to every development proposal.
That does not make the Kent director of CPRE (the Campaign to Protect Rural England) any less committed to saving as many precious acres as possible in the Garden of England.
It’s just that she’s pragmatic. If that means working alongside developers and businesses to improve their projects, then so much the better.
The proposed Ebbsfleet Garden City is a scheme in particular she wants to see – with CPRE guidance - as a national exemplar of sustainability and energy conservation, with plenty of green space.
“We would like to work alongside the developers to make the project as good as it can possibly be,” she says. “Let’s make Ebbsfleet a place that treads very lightly on the planet. Wouldn’t it be great to say Kent is the home of the first carbon-neutral garden city?”
Welsh-born Dr Newport – she has a doctorate in biology - wants CPRE Kent to be close to the centre of development planning. She accepts that houses and other building projects have to go somewhere, but, environmentally, let’s make them the best in terms of design, building materials, renewable energy and transport links.
“I would be delighted to speak to promoters and developers at the earliest opportunity to talk through the sustainability criteria we want to see.”
But Hilary is no business stooge. If she believes a project is in the wrong place, poorly designed, on the wrong scale or a threat to a special piece of rural Kent, she argues fiercely against it.
While Hilary has worked mainly in the public sector, she gained valuable business insights from a Government-funded programme that encouraged firms to make cash savings by slashing waste and preventing pollution. Her environment and energy helpline advised 100,000 industry callers and saved UK businesses £17 million a year.
She believes most businesses now behave in a more socially and environmentally conscious way. “I have been privileged to work with many businesses who get it, who have seen the green light. We can help businesses do it right and do it better.”
Hilary is often in the media spotlight, asked regularly by broadcasters for CPRE Kent’s line on fracking, solar farms, brownfield sites, housing, planning and regeneration.
Energy conservation is her passion, and she wants more house-builders to incorporate renewable energy into everyday build. She laments that developers, and by extension local councils, failed to do so in the growth areas of Ashford and the Thames Gateway.
She opposes disproportionate solar farms on prime agricultural land and the risk to food security. She has similar fears over excessive building on green fields.
It’s nonsense, she says, for those schemes to be cheaper than brown to develop because of tax breaks. “The Government should incentivise the intelligent use of recycled land.”
The CPRE’s Waste of Space campaign, urging the public to photograph brownfield sites and upload them to a website, drew a huge response. Hilary said: “It makes social and economic sense for development to occur in built-up areas near transport hubs and social amenities rather than sprawling standalone housing developments in greenfield sites.
“Kent is an ever-more crowded county, so let’s use our land wisely for people and nature.”
Hilary is concerned that watering down the planning system is risky. “Since the 1940s, we’ve had a planning system that’s kept an amazing countryside, a system we can be proud of. It could have been like the suburbs of North America.
“CPRE has been front and centre of that. We need a national system that allows local planning authorities to say “Yes” when they need to and “No” when they must. That’s what we’re in danger of losing.”
On current projects, CPRE is carefully examining the pros and cons of proposed development at Junction 10A of the M20, while it objected strongly to a proposed warehouse development at Junction 8.
“It was in the wrong place,” said Hilary. As for the Lower Thames Crossing, she says: “We want joined-up transport policy that does it smarter.”
Hilary and her husband moved to Herne Bay 12 years ago and she can now look out to sea at 100 offshore wind turbines, similar to the vista from her home town of Rhyl.
They own a canal narrow boat. That and her love of needlework may suggest she prefers life in the slow lane. But there’s no question she can act fast on environmental issues.
“I’m not an entrepreneur but I can empathise with those who create wealth and employment. However, sustainability needs to be at the heart of every business. Surely we can create a business environment where sustainability is nurtured.”
Why does she do this controversial job that has provoked hostility from some developers? “I want to help others realise that they can make a difference and Kent a little bit better.
“We’ve only got one planet and one Kent.”
Queen’s Head House
Charing TN27 0AD
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1926: Lord Abercrombie founded the CPRE
CPRE is a statutory consultee in proposed major planning developments.