Thursday, 05 June 2014 08:06

Economic plans 'must benefit countryside'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Economic plans 'must benefit countryside'

INVESTMENT plans contained in the Queen's Speech must also benefit the countryside, rural leaders have warned.

The Country Land and Business Association said it welcomed government proposals to "bolster investment in infrastructure" and "reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness".

But those proposals must also benefit the rural economy, it added.

CLA President Henry Robinson, who welcomed the proposed changes to planning laws, said: "It is vital that the changes proposed must benefit the economic competitiveness of the rural economy too.

"It is pointless changing planning laws for infrastructure that does not then provide economic competitiveness for rural-based businesses.

"All of our countryside deserves to benefit from these changes with improved economic competitiveness if we are to deliver jobs and homes for rural communities, and enhanced landscape and biodiversity."

Provision of rural housing is a vital component of the economy, added Mr Robinson.

"The CLA is pleased with National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) released on 6 March because it should compel local authorities to recognise and address the housing needs of rural communities, from first-time buyers and growing families through to appropriate housing for the ageing population.

"Crucially, the NPPG also requires local authorities to allocate residential sites accordingly, something that many authorities have failed to do in the past."

But in terms of the delivery of garden cities, the CLA said it remained cautious about the proposals outlined in the Queen's speech.

It believes these will have to be large scale in order to be viable, and therefore take years to deliver – possibly leading to the unnecessary use of compulsory purchase powers rather than looking to open market solutions.

The Countryside Alliance said it recognised the need to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning laws to improve economic competiveness.

But it said this should not be at the expense of the natural environment and local communities.

Before any development went ahead, a watertight business case needed to be demonstrated and a full and independent environmental review undertaken, including the impact the development would have on local communities.

The alliance said there was a desperate need for more affordable housing in rural communities it welcomed proposals to increase housing supply and homeownership.

But it voiced concern that the government's "well-meaning" proposals to encourage small-scale development by limiting the imposition of Section 106 agreements may risk the continued development of affordable homes in rural areas, as part of smaller mixed developments.

Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee said: "We recognise that some developments have been held back by unrealistic and uneconomical agreements, but believe requirements to provide an element of affordable housing under Section 106s must not be lost in rural areas."

In the year 2012/13, Section 106 agreements played an important part in 66% of homes built in settlements of under 3,000 (DCLG figures), added Ms Lee.

"Preventing these kinds of developments could be highly detrimental to the provision of affordable housing in smaller rural communities."

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