A fresh approach to local planning restrictions is needed to help revive declining rural communities, says David Drew, MP for Stroud and chairman of the Rural Group of Labour MPs.

Addressing a meeting of the Labour Party Rural Revival group in Brighton on Sunday 25 September, Mr Drew described the existing rules as “daft”.

“Nothing frustrates me more than when a farmer is trying to do something new with his buildings and the planning committee says ‘it’s a barn, it has to stay a barn’.”

Some of the most innovative schemes fell because of internal bickering among planners, which then caused the project to lose momentum.

“In some cases villages are dying on their feet because people on the outside won’t let people get on with it.”

Junior DEFRA minister Jim Knight agreed. “I strongly feel that the planning system needs to be made to work for us,” he told the meeting.

But government also needed to work harder on building local opportunities for people to help themselves.

“Rural England is not a place where time stands still,” he said.

The common perception of the countryside, with people playing cricket on the village green, drinking warm beer while wealthy farmers waited for the next subsidy cheque, was a myth.

The reality was that increasing demands were being made of the countryside, especially with the inflow of people from the towns.

Yet many of its traditional industries were in decline and there were areas of real social disadvantage.

Mr Knight said there was a need to sell rural England better as a location for inward investment.

It offered relatively cheap labour and, where planning permision could be attained, good value buildings.

“Instead of just propping up traditional industries, we should go after the entrepreneurs a bit harder,” he said.