Campaign to Protect Rural England
This week I spoke at the Annual General Meeting of the Sussex Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
I was asked to address the theme of local foods "from field to table", and I was happy to repeat my strong support for locally grown and sold produce, not least through our increasingly popular farmers' markets in West Sussex.
Britain's food "trade gap" has doubled in the last ten years as imports have soared. Lorries now travel 5.5 million "food miles" a year and cars 4.2 million, with the average adult driving 135 miles a year to shop for food - probably much further in rural West Sussex.
All of this imposes a huge environmental cost, and that is before we consider the impact on village high streets of out-of-town superstores or the 29 million tonnes of waste thrown away by households each year.
It was a timely meeting with local countryside campaigners, because this week Gordon Brown announced an increase in the house building programme to 3 million new homes by 2020. It's not yet clear what impact this will have on us in West Sussex, where there are already plans to build 58,000 houses.
We do need more affordable homes in the right places. The concern is about the impact of unsustainable development and the inadequacy of local infrastructure. It is a dreadful irony that, just as housing numbers are being increased, our local hospitals are being downgraded.
While Ministers spout platitudes about giving citizens a say, they are simultaneously proposing a new central planning quango which is designed to speed up major infrastructure projects (second runways, perhaps?) by getting around local opposition.
All in all, it's a worrying time for the campaigners who are seeking to preserve the Sussex countryside. So all power to their elbow for the battles ahead.