Planning system forces over 70% of rural businesses to abandon growth

According to results of a recent CLA survey, the vast majority of rural businesses say planning rules are preventing economic growth and costing many over £50,000

After the TV series, Clarkson’s Farm, showed millions of viewers how planning rules can frustrate enterprise, data from a recent CLA survey reveals the scale on which it’s happening – and for the first time – the cost it’s inflicting.

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The survey, which was responded to by 619 rural businesses, shows that almost three quarters (73%) have been forced to abandon plans to invest in their business thanks to outdated and under-resourced planning procedures.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority (93%) say that these rules are hampering economic growth in rural communities.

The findings suggest over a third of rural businesses have spent more than £20,000 before having to abandon projects thanks to planning system delays, and for around 20%, the system has squandered more than £50,000. Funds that could have been used to strengthen the rural economy.

These statistics follow a recent survey between the CLA and Historic Houses which found 87% of historic building owners see the UK's planning system for heritage as a major barrier to decarbonising. Almost half of heritage owners (48%) said the current system was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

In response to the findings, CLA President Mark Tufnell stated:

"We can’t continue treating the countryside as a museum, like it’s something to be looked at, not touched. Because it’s a home to communities and businesses that need to grow after decades of economic neglect.

"The government has been asleep while this outdated planning system has been stunting growth and wrecking livelihoods, and the severe cost it’s inflicting on farmers needs to be the wake-up call."

What we need is a new system that supports sensible, small-scale developments. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jeremy Clarkson, or from a farming family, all deserve a lifeline and a genuine chance to thrive.

CLA President Mark Tufnell

Will Mathias, a CLA member who runs CGJ Mathias & Son Nurseries, a plant nursery based near Farnham, Surrey, stated:

"We’re looking to bring another 40 acres of arable land into nursery stock production and need a nursery manager’s dwelling on site.

"We received positive feedback from planning officers at both the pre-application and outline application stages, together with more than 30 letters of support from nearby residents. But it was rejected by councillors who didn’t want to see new development and did not understand the nature of our rural business. We’re hoping to win the appeal, but it could take 18 months and set us back £15,000-£20,000."

We really need to see more planning officers on the ground to help reduce delays, and councillors need a greater understanding of rural businesses and the rural economy.

Will Mathias

In 2021 The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Rural Powerhouse published a major report on levelling up the rural economy. The report found an 18% productivity gap between the rural economy and the national average. A gap that, if reduced, could add £43bn to the UK economy.