Monday, 23 August 2010

The rural challenge
A RuSource briefing

RuSource briefings provide concise information on current farming and rural issues for rural professionals. They are circulated weekly by email and produced by Alan Spedding in association with the Arthur Rank Centre, the national focus for the rural church. Previous briefings can be accessed on the Arthur Rank Centre website at    RuSource is a voluntary project partly supported by donations and sponsorship.

An agenda for rural communities in which people enjoy living and working; which are vibrant, distinctive and in keeping with the character of their surroundings, with a full range of good-quality local services; and which enhance local landscapes, heritage and biodiversity. We need new ways to generate affordable housing ‘from the bottom up’ and with an unbureaucratic response from the planning system. We need to develop the huge economic potential which rural areas contain and to delivering local services by adopting new ‘smarter’ approaches which tap local community energies. Community-led involvement will need very focused support.

This paper is taken from the Summary of key propositions of the Rural Coalition report ‘The Rural Challenge - achieving sustainable rural communities for the 21st century’ which can be accessed at:

The Rural Coalition comprises Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), The Local Government Group (LG Group), The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). The Commission for Rural Communities brought the Rural Coalition together in September 2008 and has supported the Rural Coalition Chair and its Members with the production of this report and with technical advice on its content. The Commission is chaired by Matthew Taylor.

Creating and maintaining sustainable rural communities
Will call for:

1.1 Local Planning Authorities to draw up local plans based on a comprehensive assessment of the social, economic and environmental criteria which contain a genuine incorporation of community-led aspirations. These must not assume that rural communities are inherently ‘unsustainable’, even the smaller ones.
1.2 Very short but clear messages in the new, reduced national planning policy framework are needed which support these objectives
1.3 Rural communities which take advantage of the opportunities to decide on local priorities and take responsibility for making things happen, working jointly with other communities where appropriate.
1.4 Members of the Rural Coalition and others to provide advice support for community-led sustainable planning.

Meeting affordable housing needs
Existing mechanisms such as Exceptions Sites and Developer Agreements should be augmented by new ways to generate affordable housing ‘from the bottom up’ and with an unbureaucratic response from the planning system.

2.1 National Government and Local Planning Authorities should promote and support planning policies that favour granting consent where local communities bring forward small schemes to meet locally-identified needs that meet the following criteria:
o Parish Council support as part of a community-led plan backed by the principal authority councillors from that community.
o Sound evidence of need.
o The scheme is affordable in perpetuity.
o A suitable, viable site.
o Appropriate scale.
o Good design.

2.2 The ‘Community Right to Build’ and local policies giving effect to it should enable schemes to include one or more of the following elements: market housing, affordable housing, workspace, retail space, recreational space, community facilities, and sites for renewable energy production.
2.3 The Rural Coalition and other bodies will offer more detailed advice, experience and an enabling role.
2.4 The Government should explore and develop with the HCA (the Homes and Communities Agency), Housing Associations and Local Authorities options for intermediate affordable housing to deliver more affordable homes with less grant to meet local needs.
2.5 The Government should give Councils the freedom to manage the finances of their own housing, and the power to keep all income from selling existing Council homes.
2.6 The Government should bring forward advice and incentives to encourage landowners to provide low-cost land and/or affordable housing.
2.7 The forthcoming Decentralisation and Localism Bill should rule out clearly vexatious or trivial village green applications blocking community development.
2.8 The Government’s proposals for a ‘Green Deal’ to finance and deliver energy-efficiency improvements to existing housing should take account of the issues facing much rural housing.

Building thriving rural communities
It is about exploring and developing the huge potential which rural areas contain for providing essential resources of food, water and energy; for developing the green economy; and for embracing a much wider range of economic activities – especially those linked to IT and home-working. We propose that:

3.1 Where they have significant rural territory Local Enterprise Partnerships should ensure that people in rural areas have a strong voice, and that there are specific strategies and programmes for enterprise and employment in rural areas.
3.2 Government should consult on how any redesigned business support services can best meet rural needs.
3.3 The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and the LG Group (Local Government Group) commit to work together to encourage the adoption of innovative and distinctly rural approaches to employment and enterprise in rural areas.
3.4 Local government should promote, protect and maintain a good supply of appropriate sites and premises for all kinds of businesses in smaller rural communities.
3.5 Government should ensure that national planning policy and guidance supports alterations or extensions to the home to encourage appropriate local business growth.
3.6 The Government should conduct a review of the tax regime in relation to work-based home extensions and small-scale premises.
3.7 The RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute), the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Association) and the LG Group will work together to explore model Local Development Orders which could remove need for formal change of use, alteration or extension planning permissions to enable people to work from their home.
3.8 Government should encourage the most appropriate means by which communities can obtain high-speed broadband access, whether through commercial supply or community-led initiatives.
3.9 National policy on renewable energy should steer local plans to permit acceptable small-scale renewable energy developments in the countryside.

Delivering great local services
The way forward is to adopt new ‘smarter’ approaches which are specifically tailored to rural circumstances; and, crucially, to adopt approaches which tap local community energies and knowledge.

4.1 Before finalising the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government should review the proportionate impact in rural areas and take proper account of additional costs.
4.2 When using geographical data government and public sector agencies should ensure that they have considered whether small area data more reflective of the rural context can be obtained.
4.3 Universal Service Obligations are needed to ensure that companies do not use new opportunities introduced for competition to ‘cherry-pick’ urban areas at the cost of dispersed rural communities.
4.4 The Government should ensure ‘rural proofing’ of proposals, scaling back inspections to help public services and the third sector to provide innovative low-cost service delivery.
4.5 The ‘Community Right to Bid’ needs to encompass community-led initiatives that extend the reach of public services or provide partial solutions to retaining local provision as well as ‘like for like’ services via commissioning.
4.6 The Government should work with the Post Office to achieve a full range of financial services through rural Post Office branches.
4.7 Public service providers should consider options for shared or multi-purpose service outlets, outreach and mobile services to serve small rural communities.
4.8 Government should seek to improve access and reduce the cost of providing public services in rural communities through e-services, including assessing wiring up community facilities like village halls as a first step.
4.9 Local and strategic transport planning should consider innovative programmes supporting community solutions for dispersed rural communities.
4.10 Some of the savings made by withdrawing traditional services should support communities offering to preserve services.

Flourishing market towns
The quality of new housing and supporting services needs to be radically improved – to be more distinctive and sensitive to local place, to be greener, and to engage the local community in ways which ensure that they genuinely meet local needs.

5.1 The Government and the HCA should ensure that best practice know-how is available to Local
Authorities/private sector partnerships to take a whole community approach to development.
5.2 Local Authorities should always involve the community in shaping sustainable proposals.
5.3 The LG Group, the TCPA, the RTPI, CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), and CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) will work together with other relevant bodies on help and advice.

Empowering communities
Community-led planning will need very focused help and support.

6.1 National and local government should recognise and adopt community-led planning.
6.2 The Government needs to start by building local capacity for delivery – for example through support for local enablers and activists, advice and training, and modest funding.
6.3 Parish and Town Councils should become the ‘guardian’ of the community-led plan, monitoring progress and regularly refreshing the priorities.
6.4 Local Authorities should recognise that there will often be a very strong case for individual communities obtaining visible benefits, community facilities and community-led services from accepting more development. The forthcoming Decentralisation and Localism Bill should ensure that there are straightforward mechanisms to enable this.

Alan Spedding, 17 August 2010

© Alan Spedding 2010. This briefing may be reproduced or transmitted in its entirety free of charge. Where extracts are used, their source must be acknowledged. RuSource briefings may not be reproduced in any publication or offered for sale without the prior permission of the copyright holder.

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