Ensuring the rural voice is heard

The latest column from CLA East Director Cath Crowther
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There have been two stories in the news in recent weeks that help to demonstrate how the work of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is supporting those who live and work in the countryside.

Our members, who are a range of farmers, landowners and rural businesses, are making a crucial contribution to the national economy by providing food, jobs and housing in rural areas, among many other benefits. As a membership organisation, it is our responsibility to be a voice for them on the matters that can have a direct impact.

In one such recent example, after a major lobbying effort by the CLA, the government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced plans for an overhaul of energy efficiency targets for landlords, in the hope that pressure on the housing market might be eased. It has finally been recognised that Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) - which measure the energy efficiency of buildings - are in need of 'fundamental reform'.

The CLA has been explaining to government for many years that the current system clearly doesn’t work in a rural setting. Whilst it is important we all take steps to decarbonise, the requirement for all new tenancies to have an EPC rating of C or above by 2025 would have been impossible for many rural properties.

Many rural homes are, as you may expect, very old, often listed and off the gas grid, with some even off the electricity grid. The current EPC system looks at the cost to heat a home, as opposed to the carbon emissions, and is based on modern construction. The previous proposals would have forced many landlords to spend at least £10,000 on works with no guarantee such investment would actually improve carbon emissions.

A recent survey told us energy efficiency standards were the main reason why many landlords were selling or changing the use of some of their properties, causing untold damage to the supply of rural housing during a cost of living crisis.

It is hugely important that we find ways to minimise the environmental impact of rural homes and we are working constructively with the Government to explore how traditional rural homes can be heated more sustainably. We want to see reforms of EPCs so that the system works for all kinds of homes in the countryside, in the hope that pressure on the housing market might be eased.

Read a CLA Guidance Note on EPCs

In other housing related news, and further evidence in the CLA's lobbying work, Secretary of State for Levelling UP, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, recently committed to a package of planning reforms, that aims to help reduce the complexity of the planning system, something the CLA has long-called for as part of its Rural Powerhouse campaign.

Key points from the announcement include a consultation on the relaxation of permitted development rights (PDRs) and funding to deal with planning backlogs. There will also be a consultation on reforming the local plan process. Full details can be found here >

The PDR consultation proposes amendments relating to make it easier to convert buildings into new houses, agricultural diversification and development and also the extension of non-domestic buildings.

Evidence from CLA members in 2020 identified that, on average, it takes 8.1 years to secure planning permission. The suggested amendment of the existing PDRs for both rural housing and farm diversification will contribute to easing both this issue and the hurdles that many of our members are facing within the planning system.

The CLA would like to hear your experiences of PDRs so it can build case study examples of the challenges. Contact us here to share your views.

Here at the CLA we are currently reviewing the consultations on amending permitted development rights and reforming the local plan process. We will be raising the topics with our committees, to ensure our members' voices are heard, and will respond to both consultations accordingly.

We want to see the potential of the rural economy unleashed, creating skilled jobs and stronger communities in the process. These are just two examples that give just a taste of how we working to achieve that.