CPRE Norfolk

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The History of CPRE Norfolk

The Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England was formed in 1933 and is one of the most established environmental organisations in the county.  For more than 75 years, CPRE Norfolk has promoted the value of the local landscape and challenged decision makers on some of the biggest planning issues the county has faced.  From the Bacton Gas Planning Inquiry to the battle to save Halvergate Marshes, from the Broads National Park designation to the threat of the Norwich Northern Distributor Route, it is a history of fighting for the future.  Choose a time period below and read more.

1920s – 1950s

1960s – 1970s

1980s – 2000s

1920s – 1950s

How CPRE Norfolk was Formed

The Campaign to Protect Rural England was founded in London by Sir Patrick Abercrombie in 1926 and soon became a national body of recognised influence. County branches soon started to appear to support CPRE’s work at a local level and on November 29th, 1933 a county meeting was held at The Stuart Hall to form the Norfolk branch. In the 1930’s the branch worked on problems with advertising hoardings, litter and the disappearance of hedgerows in rural areas. The abandonment of old cottages and barns was also reported, as well as road widening and tree felling along previously quiet country lanes. The branch also drafted a paper to guide the reconditioning of timber framed and clay lumped cottages. By 1939, 506 members had been recruited, each paying a subscription of 2s.6d (approximately 10p).

Post-War Years

After the war, the branch was reactivated and first began to influence the design and setting of local authority housing. The branch actively supported rural housing schemes such as the Blakeney Neighbourhood Housing Society which bought and repaired vacant cottages for re-let to local villagers. By the 1950s, population drift to the towns and increasing size of farm holdings meant that there were hundreds of farm cottages left abandoned and uninhabitable. The branch spoke of ‘dying villages’ and of concern for Norfolk’s legacy of outstanding medieval churches, many of which were now underused and in need of proper maintenance.

Campaigning for the Broads National Park

Better protection of the Norfolk Broads was also on the agenda and there were calls to designate the Broads as a National Park. An expansion of the tourist industry had not only threatened the tranquillity of the Broads but also its very ecology and our members were involved in discussion over protection of this very valuable area. The branch also supported a programme to rescue many of the derelict wind and water mills across the county.

1960s – 1970s


The 1960’s raised calls for undergrounding of power lines which were now spreading rapidly through the countryside. Road traffic was also increasing leading to the closure of almost all of Norfolk’s local rail links. The agricultural revolution continued to impact on the Norfolk landscape with the disappearance of hedgerows, the building of concrete barns and dwindling numbers of farmworkers. All this and more occupied the branch’s attention in the 1960s, but it was the Bacton Gas Terminal that generated the biggest challenge to CPRE Norfolk so far.

Bacton Gas Terminal Campaign

On 2nd November 1966 the EDP reported Shell’s application to build a reception and treatment plant for newly found North Sea Gas, on 60 acres of cliff top farmland between Bacton and Paston. The Branch campaigned vigorously to emphasise the scenic value of the area and for relocation of the site to existing ports or industrial centres such as Yarmouth, Lowestoft or Kings Lynn. Pressure from the Branch, Parishes and the National Trust forced two public inquiries and ensured that planning permission was granted only with a number of developmental conditions and safety precautions. The Bacton Inquiry certainly put the protection of Norfolk’s landscapes into the public’s attention more than ever before.

1970s – Mergers, Awards and Celebrations

The 1970s was a time of expansion for the branch. In 1972 CPRE Norfolk merged with the Norfolk Association of Amenity Societies to form the Norfolk Society. In 1974, following local government reform, district branches were formed to concentrate on issues and development in their district council area. In 1977, the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust was founded as a joint venture with the County Council, to identify and renovate worthwhile Norfolk buildings in danger of dereliction or demolition. And around this time, the Norfolk Society Awards was born, to give recognition to significant small-scale achievements in the field of conservation and environmental architecture. With these new ventures up and running, the branch continued to be as active as ever in issues that threatened the countryside. Quarrying was expanding rapidly in Norfolk and there were many examples of the Branch attending public planning inquiries. There was also controversy over suggested routes for bypasses at Loddon, Holt, Reepham and Wroxham. ‘European Year of the Tree’ in 1973 saw the branch organising tree planting, school projects, talks to local groups and a conference in Norwich to celebrate the countryside.

1980s – 2000s

1980s and the Halvergate Marshes Campaign

The 1980’s brought fresh campaigning to protect two of Norfolk’s most beautiful areas. The Broads Bill was welcomed in 1987, although it highlighted the difference between those managing the ecology of the area and those with vested tourist interests. The branch was involved in consultation throughout the development of the Bill. Halvergate Marshes was also under threat and the Branch campaigned intensively with Friends Of the Earth and other groups to prevent drainage of the wetlands for large-scale ploughing. The eventual conservation scheme that was launched by the Agricultural Ministry encouraged farmers to maintain traditional cattle grazing on the marshes and protect and area with special scientific and wildlife interest. The campaign was seen as a turning point in the relationship between farming and conservation and the scheme pioneering scheme became a model for the rest of Europe.


In the early 1990s, CPRE National Office suggested that branches should form ‘campaign groups’ to publicise and address contentious issues across their county. In 1992 the Branch formed a Transport Group to deal with perhaps the county’s most serious problem and later a Housing Group was kept busy in discussing the need for affordable housing for Norfolk. The Branch increased its membership to over 1000 members and our volunteers monitored planning applications in every district of the county, making statements and appeals where necessary.

75th Anniversary

After the turn of the millennium, the branch changed its name from the Norfolk Society back to its original name CPRE Norfolk. An office was established in the city at Norwich’s Environment Centre, The Greenhouse, leading to improved interest in the branch’s work and a new stream of volunteers. In 2004, the branch organised Norfolk’s first conference for planning professionals on light pollution and hosted the launch of the Government’s Select Committee Report into light pollution. In 2006, the branch was involved for many months in giving evidence to the Examination-in-Public of the new East of England Regional Plan. And in 2007, following a successful campaign to promote sustainable buildings in Norfolk, CPRE Norfolk launched the UK’s first ‘open eco-homes’ event, opening up some of Norfolk’s most energy-efficient buildings for tours with architects, builders and homeowners. The 75th Anniversary of CPRE Norfolk was celebrated in 2008.


If you are interested further in the history of CPRE Norfolk, a publication ’60 years of the Norfolk Society’ is available from the CPRE Norfolk office.  The Norfolk Record Office at County Hall also has many archive papers stretching back to the charity’s inception, including minutes of all Executive Committee meetings from 1933 onwards.


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