The CLA has called on the government to demonstrate it has an ambitious plan for the rural economy ahead of the Conservative Party Conference, which begins this weekend.
The CLA believes opportunities to create jobs and prosperity in rural areas are being ‘routinely missed’.
Putting this right is one of the key objectives of the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign to boost productivity in rural areas. Currently, the rural economy is 18% less productive than the national average. Closing that gap would add an estimated £43bn to the economy.
At Conservative Party Conference, the CLA will publish its paper ‘Levelling-up: Unleashing the potential of the rural economy’, highlighting a number of policies government should implement to address regional inequalities impacting rural communities – including the need for investment in digital and electrical connectivity.
But with a new Planning Bill around the corner, being delivered by the new Ministry for Levelling Up, it is the planning system that the CLA points to as an area ripe for immediate reform.
The current planning regime is restrictive, expensive and inefficient - harming the potential of the economy in rural areas. A CLA survey last year found that it took on average 10.9 years between a landowner first seeking planning permission and the project commencing, stifling investment, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Other major problems include hidden additional costs and unrealistic demands, harmed by out-dated perceptions of the economy in rural areas.
Specifically, the paper argues that Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the new Levelling Up department, should give greater priority to the potential of the rural economy in the National Planning Policy Framework, and that greater use of "permission in principle" rules for proposals with demonstrable economic benefit will significantly boost local economies.
If such changes are made, they will encourage rural businesses to consider new investment, encourage farm diversification, improve job opportunities and improve the interconnectedness of rural and urban supply chains.
Levelling up means nothing at all if it does not apply to the countryside. Rural areas are as often blighted by deprivation, a lack of housing and low levels of investment as their urban counterparts.
CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:
“What is so frustrating is that so many rural businesses are ready to invest, create more jobs and opportunity for people, but are held back by a lack of ambition from the government.
“For too long Government has considered rural affairs to be solely a matter for Defra, but Defra does not hold the required policy levers to enact many of the policies necessary to level up rural areas. As a result, transformative ideas often fall between organisational cracks, and opportunities to build strong communities, create jobs and prosperity are routinely missed.
Mr Bridgeman added:
“Time and again we hear of farmers wanting to convert disused old barns into modern workspace for local small businesses, or housing for local families, only to be held back by a dated planning system.
“It is so hard to navigate that, at great cost, many simply give up trying to find a way to work within its restrictions and abandon development projects altogether.
“One planning application for the redevelopment of a site in a market town required £1 million in upfront costs for supporting evidence, and was ultimately refused. Another CLA member spent 20 years navigating the planning system in order to convert listed farm buildings into the kind of commercial office spaces that would encourage entrepreneurs to find a home for their business in the countryside.
“Nobody wants to see the countryside concreted over, least of all us. The other extreme though is treating the countryside as a museum. Rural communities have a huge amount to offer, they are brimming with economic potential – we just need Government to see it, and work with us to deliver a meaningful and ambitious cross-departmental strategy designed to give everyone who lives and works in the countryside a fair shot.