Rural economic growth is held back by lack of Government action on planning

23 August 2016

The CLA says farmers and other rural businesses are still enduring confusing, slow and obstructive planning rules a year after the Government pledged to update them.

Ministers committed to delivering a “10-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas” in August 2015, pledging to review planning rules holding back communities, jobs and growth.

A consultation on reforms followed in February 2016, but rural communities have seen no outcomes, leading the CLA to highlight the damage this is causing the rural economy.  

Planning reforms proposed by the CLA include expanding the scope of successful Permitted Development Rights (PDR) 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 – tohelp 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 obstructive attitudes of local authorities. In the CLA’s eastern region, 43 percent of agricultural to residential applications via PDR were refused in 2015. 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.

CLA East Regional Surveyor Claire Wright said: “Members attempting to invest in their businesses across our countryside are being held back by the delays, inefficiencies and inflexibilities of the planning system.

“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 to reduce flooding risk. There are also opportunities in diversification, creating alternative income streams through housing, leisure or retail, which can make the core farming business more secure.  

“We laid out a number of simple improvements that would have had an immediate beneficial effect when the Rural Planning Review was first announced a year ago. There is an urgent need to boost investment and growth across the rural economy, and Ministers have to act now.”

Ms Wright also expressed disappointment at the failure to deliver the promised ‘fast track planning certification process’ (also known as Planning-in-Principle).

She added: “A new Planning-in-Principle scheme would have given businesses 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.”

The CLA is to hold a special planning event at Monks Green Farm in Hertford on Tuesday 13 September (10.30am until 2pm) for farmers and landowners looking to revitalise old agricultural buildings by converting them to commercial uses or much-needed homes.

For further information regarding the event, click here. Alternatively, call the CLA East Regional Office on 01638 590429 or email east@cla.org.uk.