The government has announced a wide-ranging package of measures in England to help unleash the potential of the rural economy, following constant campaigning from the CLA.
The report, ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’, sets out government plans to boost rural communities by improving planning, housing, digital connectivity, transport, jobs and tackling rural crime.
Among the measures announced include:
- A commitment to consult on making it easier for farmers to convert redundant agricultural buildings into new houses by cutting red tape. Planning rules could be changed to provide a more generous threshold delivered through a more streamlined planning process.
- A network of ‘rural housing enablers’ to act as brokers between developers and communities. Backed by £2.5m of funding, they will identify sites with local support for development and in keeping with the local area.
- A new £7m fund to test new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity to support farmers and tourism business access fast and reliable connectivity in remote areas.
- Legislate by the summer to increase fly-tipping and litter penalties and consult stakeholders on ringfencing the use of these fines to fund further action on fly-tipping.
The report acknowledges that rural areas already contribute 15% to England’s economy, which amounts to more than £250bn of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign, launched in 2019, identified that the rural economy can contribute even more. The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average. With the right government support, closing this gap could add £43bn to the national GDP. The CLA devised and championed a series of practical recommendations that would deliver:
- A fully connected countryside
- A planning system designed for rural communities
- Profitable and sustainable farming
- Investment in skills and innovation
- A simpler tax regime
The CLA also facilitated the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse, which launched two inquiries looking at rural productivity and how rural communities were affected by the cost-of-living crisis. These inquiries resulted in the publication of two influential reports containing 39 recommendations for practical and cost-effective solutions to remove the barriers that have held the rural economy back.
In response to the announcement, CLA President Mark Tufnell says:
We’re delighted that at last, the government is showing ambition for the countryside and those living within it. These announcements mark an important step towards unlocking the potential of the rural economy.
“The CLA, through its Rural Powerhouse campaign, has constantly pushed the government for an economic blueprint to boost prosperity and productivity. The government is finally listening to business owners who are determined to help grow the economy, create jobs and strengthen our communities but have been held back by outdated planning laws and archaic infrastructure as well as the cost-of-living premium so many have to pay just for living in rural areas.
“This plan shows how government departments can work together to reduce the 19% productivity gap adding £43bn to economic output. The government must now act with urgency to deliver these promises and match the ambition of rural businesses at every turn.”
Lord Cameron of Dillington, Co-Chair of the APPG for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse, adds: “This is a welcome step forward. Rural communities have, for too long, been neglected and so I am thrilled that, following the two APPG inquiries, the government is recognising the many opportunities that exist for those living and working in rural areas, and correcting some of the disadvantages previously faced.”
Unleashing rural opportunity – the announcements
The report is split across four themes: housing, communities, connectivity and growth. It includes plans to:
- Consult on further steps to help remote communities get online by encouraging the provision of fixed wireless access and satellite services.
- Continue to make progress in improving broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas by delivering the £5bn Project Gigabit across the UK at pace, including plans to procure all regional contracts in England by the end of 2024.
- Support electricity infrastructure in rural areas, making sure it keeps up with the changing needs of consumers for example, to support the electrification of heating and EV charging by publishing further plans to accelerate electricity network connections.
- Improve local transport networks through a Future of Transport Rural Strategy, which will set out plans to improve access to services, tackle isolation and increase 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 rural routes.
- Help more communities access funding for village halls, by extending the scope of the Platinum Jubilee Village Halls Fund from Autumn 2023 by lowering the minimum grant threshold to £2,000.
- Publish a new public libraries strategy for England in 2024.
- 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.
- Additional funding for the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s new national rural crime unit to help tackle anti-social behaviour, equipment theft and a new funded role to tackle fly-tipping.
- Publish a dental plan shortly, which will set out further reform to improve access to NHS Dentistry.
- 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.