Rural Solutions submitted a comprehensive response to The House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy highlighting the areas the Government can address through policy to enable further sustainable development. Here is a summary of the points made.
The future of the rural economy is bright. Rural areas host valuable and diverse economic activity, contributing to the whole of the UK’s economy as well as local, sub-regional and regional economies. Examples of notable rural enterprises include Rural Solutions’ client Bolesworth Estate Company, which includes ventures in farming, property, leisure and tourism. It is also home to Europe’s largest ice cream parlour – The Cheshire Ice Cream Farm – the most visited, free to enter, farm-based attraction in England. Rural successes such as the ice cream farm can be replicated but require factors such as the availability of sites, access to funding, entrepreneurial capacity and the positive application of national planning policy.
- Transport links – Rural areas are currently subject to issues such as poor access to public transport, although this can be improved in several ways, such as the roll out of electric charging points, improvements to and creation of cycling routes, and to encourage highway authorities and local planning to work with local bus operators to put in place the necessary services. Other issues relate to the closure of local shops and rural amenities which affects the future quality of life of the local community. The planning system can provide support for these services by enabling sustainable growth in rural settlements. Furthermore, landed estates can support community facilities by charging affordable rents and making repairs, although they are under pressure from structural change in agriculture as well as the potential impact of capital taxes. The ability to support community facilities would be improved were the assets to be treated differently for capital taxation purposes.
- Planning policy – The planning system has a vital role to play in helping rural businesses thrive. One suggestion of improvement is a Ministerial letter, or communication for the Government’s Chief Planner, to planning authorities, stating the importance that the Government places on enabling rural businesses to thrive in rural areas, including those in Green Belt.
- Rural housing – Challenges associated with rural housing, including affordability, could be addressed by delivery of blended schemes of open market housing and affordable housing in rural communities, and encouraging landowners to retain ‘nomination rights’ with affordable housing provided on their land. Recent national policy has had a positive effect on rural housing, specifically the objectives set out in paragraphs 83 and 84 of the NPPF, However, local politicking introduces barriers and delays to positive local planning outcomes. Anything the Government could do to remove the heat from local politics would be helpful, as well as the promotion of strong statements on the importance Government places on the delivery of rural housing.