Stalled planning reforms holding back rural economy

22 August 2016

One year on from a pledge to help farmers and other rural businesses reduce planning barriers and the Government has still not delivered.

That is the message of the CLA, which represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses that are held back by the delays, inefficiencies and inflexibilities of the planning system.

A year ago this week, Ministers committed to delivering a “10-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas” pledging to review planning rules that were holding back communities, jobs and growth. A consultation on reforms followed in February 2016 but so far, rural communities have seen no outcomes and inaction is harming all those who live and work in the countryside.

CLA President Ross Murray said: “Businesses across our countryside are working through tough times. There is a bright future ahead for many but it requires investment. It is hard enough for businesses to take steps to invest but it can become impossible when faced with confusing, slow and obstructive planning rules.

“Farm businesses, in particular, need to invest to increase productivity and resilience. This can mean building new and improved storage facilities or on-farm reservoirs for better irrigation and reduce flooding risk. For other businesses, the best opportunities are in diversification thereby developing alternative income streams such as housing, leisure or in retail, which make the core farming business more secure.

“That is why the Rural Planning Review announced a year ago was so important. We, along with many others, engaged constructively with the review laying out a number of simple improvements that would have an immediate beneficial effect. Ministers must now act. Every day of further delay is damaging given the urgent need to boost investment and growth across the rural economy.”

Reforms proposed by the CLA include expanding the scope of successful permitted development rights to make it easier and more certain for farmers to invest in:

  • farm shops - loosening restrictions on sale of products not produced on-farm which helps to make the shop business more viable and attract more customers, 
  • polytunnels – to help farmers increase production of domestically produced strawberries and other soft fruits, 
  • on-farm reservoirs - to help farmers better manage water through irrigation and flood prevention,
  • general agricultural buildings - extending rights to farmers to erect small buildings (up to 458sq m) without prior notification of the planning authority to reduce costs and delays,
  • conversion of agricultural buildings to homes – a successful policy that has seen significant numbers of moribund buildings brought back into use is still being held back by the obstructionist attitudes of local authorities, with half of all applications being refused. Improvements to the policy put forward by the CLA would see this number reduced, and
  • the construction of rural affordable homes for rent on rural exception sites - allowing the construction of between one and nine affordable homes in or adjacent to rural villages would help to address the acute shortage of homes for those who want to live and work in rural communities, as well as create income opportunities for local landowning businesses.

Mr Murray expressed disappointment at the failure to deliver the ‘fast track planning certification process’ (also known as “Planning-in-Principle”) that was specifically promised in the plan.

He said: “This year has also seen the reversal in Ministers’ promise that rural businesses would benefit from a new ‘Planning-in-Principle’ certification scheme. This innovation would have made a big difference in terms of giving businesses vital confidence that they would secure planning approval before making substantial investments. The change imposed on the Government by the House of Lords, limiting this new right to housing developments only, is a major setback and we urge Ministers to reintroduce the measure at the first opportunity in this Parliament.”

Defra published “Towards a one nation economy: a 10-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas” in August 2015. Read the plan here.

Read the CLA’s response to the Rural Planning Review Call for Evidence here.