20 October 1995

Rural White Paper – lots of ideas but no new cash

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

THE government produced a series of plans, policies and aims for rural England on Tuesday – but no new cash.

After a year of sifting evidence from 380 organisations, MAFF and the Department of the Environment produced a 146-page joint White Paper Rural England.

As forecast (News, Oct 13) it pledges to expand conservation, ease planning control to boost rural jobs and homes, give rate relief to village post offices/stores, and extend parish councils powers.

Suggestions of a new rural affairs ministry are rejected. Instead a Cabinet sub-committee headed by deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine has been charged with implementing the White Papers promises. A progress review in 12 months is also planned.

The almost glossy-looking document stresses that it is about a "living and working countryside". In a foreword the Prime Minister claims it is the first time ever that a government has undertaken such a comprehensive rural review.

"This White Paper will not be the last word. I intend it to mark the beginning of a healthy and open debate about rural England and its future," says Mr Major.

Similar rural reviews in Wales and Scotland are under way.

Encourage job creation

Planning – By persuading planning authorities to be more liberal in approving new uses for redundant buildings in the country the government hopes to encourage job creation. A new rural business class for planning consent is suggested with restrictions to prevent unlimited, growth of a business.

Although still committed to preserving the best farm land for future generations it says it may adopt a "more flexible approach" to grade 3a land in areas where there is little lower grade land available for development.

Taxation – The government is actively considering the Country Landowners Associations suggestion that predominantly agricultural estates, where other diversified activities have evolved, should be assessed as a single trading unit for income, capital gains and inheritance tax.

County councils – From next April councils are to be given powers to keep 90% of receipts from sales of council farms and smallholdings providing money is spent on "improving quality of rural life".

Parish councils – More powers planned for parish councils to help fight rural crime, managing footpaths in their areas and dealing with local transport issues. More flexible way of altering rights of way envisaged providing there is no net loss of public access.

Pesticides – DoE is arranging a private meeting next week with interested parties to draw up an action plan for keeping pesticide use to the minimum necessary for effective pest control.

Housing – Villages of fewer than 3000 to be exempt from the housing associations tenants right to buy provisions to ensure affordable homes to rent do not disappear.