Planning rules are ‘holding back rural businesses’

The current planning system is holding back many rural businesses and needs reforming urgently, according to a Country Land and Business Association report released today (1 June).

Planning for Change in the Countryside throws down the gauntlet to the new coalition government by highlighting a number of key areas that have to change if the economic and environmental sustainability of rural communities is to be protected.

In particular, it says the complexity and cost of submitting a planning application – around £3500 or more for a modern agricultural building – is causing many businesses to shelve investment plans or drop them entirely.

Planning fees were raised in 2005 and again in 2008, but there was no significant improvement in the quality of service from planning authorities, which has got more complicated, said Judith Norris, who chairs the CLA’s planning working group. “Rural businesses are putting investment plans on hold and going out of business because of this. The information required must be simplified and be in proportion to the size of the business and application.”

Another area that had to change was the tendency of many local planning authorities to focus on promoting the environment over employment, housing and service provision, without recognising that this could result in unsustainable rural communities, she added. “There is a failure to recognise that economic development is important for a balanced community and to ensure that we’re not just creating another dormitory commuter town.”

Increasing economic sustainability often allowed rural businesses to focus more time and money on the environment anyway, CLA president William Worsley added. “Any planning system that restricts economic development could fail the communities and environment it intended to support. The government needs to recognise this and approach the planning system in a new way.”

Small-scale green energy projects offered farm businesses a huge opportunity, but they should be considered on equal merit with traditional diversification options, he said. “New planning policies already take a more holistic approach to renewables, beyond wind, which is a welcome step in the right direction.”

In summary, the CLA says the planning system should:

• Provide for a stable and flexible regime that can deliver quicker, less expensive decisions while taking a balanced approach to sustainable development

• Encourage a mix of economic development in rural areas, promoting well-designed and suitably-scaled developments, not arbitrary restrictions on the type of development

• Promote and provide for sufficient infrastructure of jobs, housing, transport, public and private services, while reducing environmental impacts

• Facilitate change and help rural business meet challenges associated with global food demand and climate change

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