Planning delays holding back rural economy

Despite UK ministers establishing a ten-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas, one year later UK rural communities have seen few of the intended outcomes.

The original pledge consisted of reviewing planning rules that held back rural communities from progress, jobs and growth. While there was a consultation in February 2016, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) claims that the success of rural economies is in jeopardy due to the delay in planning reforms delaying investment and keeping unnecessary hurdles in place.

Shane Brennan, director of external affairs at CLA, spoke to Infrastructure Intelligence about the importance as well as the ramifications of this, saying: “The issue is about investment. Some of that investment needs to come from the taxpayer, as has always been the case, but most of it must come from private enterprise. So it will be rural businesses, from farms to technology start-up companies, that will invest in communities, create jobs and create growth that benefits everyone.  

“The future success of the rural economy relies on one factor above all others - investment. We need investment to build more houses, to create more places for people to work, to improve our agricultural production and to manage our environment,” said Brennan.

Last year, when the rural planning review was announced it was praised as a way through which simple reforms would have immediate as well as long-term benefits for those living in rural communities. The continued delay to enact such reforms has a domino effect on progress, particularly with recent uncertainties about investments after the EU referendum. 

Having seen a shift in investment interests for the UK after the EU referendum results, there is an increased emphasis being placed by politicians on the promotion of investment opportunities. It is during such potential uncertainty about the future of UK investments, that CLA urges politicians to decrease the hurdles preventing rural investments.

Brennan said: “Leaving the EU is a risk to the rural economy if the process by which we leave and the policies we adopt undermine confidence and fuel uncertainty. The key is clarity of plan and purpose and this is as important at the level of local planning authorities as it is for the Department for Exiting the EU. For example, government ministers must communicate a clear plan for the future of agricultural policy outside the EU and a plan for securing the access to trade markets that gives rural businesses confidence to plan to invest and grow their business.”  

“Planning policies are not often the main reason people make investments but bad planning can often be the reason why they don’t," Brennan concluded.

Such evaluation of potential planning hurdles is necessary in order to progress the current government’s objectives to secure continued investments in not only the UK’s urban but also its rural economy.