Launch a consultation on whether to change existing permitted development rights to make it easier for farmers to change their existing agricultural buildings to homes. Separately, we are consulting on providing local authorities with greater control over the change of use to short-term holiday lets.
This is a win for the CLA. We have consistently argued for greater use of permitted development rights, as the planning system is difficult, risky and costly for some businesses. This will enable more businesses to diversify and grow without being held back by the red tape of planning departments. We have regularly engaged with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to persuade them to review existing permitted development rights and to create new ones.
Our policy publications, including Rural Powerhouse: a planning system designed for the rural economy, identified areas where the planning system could be changed to create more sustainable development. This led to several meetings with officials, including housing advisers in Number 10. We have already responded to the consultation on the change of use to short-term holiday lets.
We still want to see the easing of restrictions for those in National Parks and AONBs. 58.4% of people that live in protected landscapes have buildings they wish to convert.
Consider, as part of our wider review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), what more can be done specifically to support rural small sites for affordable housing.
Explore with stakeholders whether there could be a greater role for permission in principle to unlock more small-scale rural housing.
This is a major win for the CLA. Our Sustainable Communities report in 2022 offered recommendations on what could be done to specifically support rural small sites for affordable housing. We have proposed a “planning passport” policy as a way of extending the use of permission in principle for affordable housing on rural exception sites. We have also called for the definition of ‘affordable housing’ in the NPPF to be revised to enable landowners to deliver small sites for affordable housing without needing to become registered providers.
Fund a network of Rural Housing Enablers across England with £2.5m. This will boost the supply of new, affordable housing by identifying development opportunities, supporting site owners and community representatives to navigate the planning system and securing the support of local communities for developments.
Local authorities with a strong Rural Housing Enabler (RHE) presence have a higher level of housing delivery. A RHE has three key aims:
- To assess housing needs by working with the local community and parish councils through housing needs surveys
- To raise awareness of local housing need
- To work with landowners, planning authorities, housing associations and developers to facilitate the provision of affordable housing.
The CLA welcomes this announcement. RHEs can lead to the successful delivery of rural affordable housing in an area. For example, in North Yorkshire, there is a strong team of RHEs, who work with landowners, housing associations and others to deliver affordable housing with great success.
A new £7m fund will test out new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed-line internet connectivity, helping support farmers and tourism businesses access lightning fast, reliable connectivity in remote areas for the first time.
The results of the new approaches will also help rural businesses in trial areas make the most of new agricultural technologies by improving connectivity on their land, for example, using new drone technology to monitor crops and livestock in real-time, support landscape and wildlife conservation efforts, or develop interactive experiences for tourists.
We welcome this new funding, which will get exciting pilots off the ground. The few CLA members who have used new satellite technology (e.g. Starlink) have been very positive. This could be a game-changer for rural areas and could meet the CLA’s call for full broadband coverage, which we have campaigned for, for more than a decade.
Government intention is to put in place a framework where all of the £5bn Project Gigabit fund will be allocated by the end of 2024. This is to be achieved through completing a procurement process where the majority of rural areas will have access to gigabit capable broadband.
If the government can realise its procurement ambition by the end of 2024, it will mean that there is a guarantee rural communities and businesses will finally have access to an effective broadband connection. This does not mean that gigabit broadband will be delivered to everyone by the end of 2024, but it does mean is that there is a far clearer way forward in closing the rural-urban digital divide.
This step forward is another success for the CLA. Ever since Project Gigabit was announced in 2021, we have been campaigning for assurances that the full £5bn budget would be utilised for digital connectivity and not inadvertently syphoned off. We now have that assurance and we will continue to ensure that both government and the industry deliver on these promises.
The government has appointed Simon Fell MP as a Rural Connectivity Champion to act as a liaison between government and the telecoms sector. This is an important opportunity for the government and the telecoms industry to work together in achieving universal coverage. We look forward to working with Simon Fell MP to ensure that rural businesses and communities benefit from the digital revolution.
Lay regulations by July to increase flytipping and litter penalties, consult with key stakeholders on ringfencing use of fixed penalty receipts released through fines.
Provide £200,000 in funding from the Home Office for the new National Rural Crime Unit. In addition, Defra will fund a post within the National Rural Crime Unit to explore how the police’s role in tacking fly-tipping can be optimised.
The CLA has been calling for an increase in fly-tipping and litter penalties for several years, and for additional funding for rural crime in our five-point action plan for government. It is a huge issue for our members, with almost two thirds of farmers and landowners affected each year and some targeted multiple times each month.
We have met with parliamentarians and hosted roundtables with ministers both in Defra and the Home Office, where we highlighted case studies of members who have been particularly affected by rural crime, and discussed the physical and emotional damage it inflicts on communities. Our regional teams meet regularly with the police forces on their patch to discuss how rural crime can be best tackled in their areas.
Support electricity infrastructure in rural areas to respond to the changing needs of consumers from the electrification of heating and EV charging by publishing further plans to accelerate electricity network connections.
In its Energy Security Strategy, Powering Up Britain, the UK Government committed to publish an action plan to “accelerate electricity network connections, including reform of the connections process”.
The costs and difficulty of getting or upgrading connections are issues that the CLA has been raising consistently with ministers and officials since the launch of the Rural Powerhouse campaign. In consultation responses and in meetings, we have said this needs to be urgently addressed for rural businesses, whose customers and/or suppliers increasingly use electric vehicles and expect a charge point at their destination. It’s also a barrier to the government’s ambition to see more heat pumps installed in England. It also hampers more renewable generation.
We welcome the recognition of the rural dimension of the challenge, and look forward to more details.
Other enablers of rural growth
Publish a Future of Transport Rural Strategy, highlighting new transport solutions for rural mobility issues, improving access to services, tackling isolation and increasing access to jobs in rural and remote areas. The government will also consult on reforming grant funding for bus operators to help them keep fares low and service levels high, helping to protect vital rural routes.
Consult shortly on a new fund to help smaller abattoirs to improve productivity and enhance animal welfare, aiming to open a fund for applications later this year.
Transport and transport infrastructure is crucial in enabling both rural businesses to operate more productively, as well as opening up greater opportunities for growth through skilling up. Rural businesses cannot function efficiently if they are unable to find employees with the right skill sets or develop their management skills.
The CLA has been calling for more funding for rural skills for several years, starting with the need for a national audit of digital skills. The new measures will contribute towards greater productivity and reduce the disparities between rural and urban areas.
The announcement of a new fund for small abattoirs will improve resilience in the food chain and boost productivity in the livestock sector.
Review how deprivation in rural areas is measured so that it is better understood and taken into account in decision-making – ensuring the interests of rural communities are better represented.
This will help shine a light on the need for, and the impact of, government investment in schemes to create and maintain jobs in the countryside.
The need for investment in capital and skills was made in the CLA’s last two spending review submissions, in many ministerial meetings and our evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse inquiries. This new approach and the commitment to allocate £34m in 2024/25 for rural skills, follow the announcement in September 2022 of a £110m capital fund over two years - the Rural England Prosperity Fund – another specific CLA ‘ask’.