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CLA calls for review of the green belt

Words: Laura Edgar
Rural / iStock-147989111

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has suggested that a review of green belt policy should be conducted because ‘perpetual tinkering’ with it does not deliver certainty for farmers, planning authorities or developers.

This is one of a number of short and longer-term recommendations outlined in the organisation’s new report Rural Powerhouse: A Planning System Designed for the Rural Economy.

It states that the purpose of the green belt, as set out in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, to prevent urban sprawl is at odds with the economic development needs of the countryside surrounding urban areas.

“We have repeatedly seen the outer boundaries of green belt moving inexorably further out over currently undesignated countryside and farm businesses in order for urban areas to expand into what was green belt. Taking land from the inner edge for development and replacing it with additional land on the outer edge does not fulfil the original purpose of green belt planning policy.”

The report recommends that a review and consultation on the green belt should consider whether the perceived benefits of it justify the real economic costs to society.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “Planning reform is one of the five key pillars that make up part of the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign, which aims to unleash the potential of the rural economy by closing the rural productivity gap and transforming the lives of millions of people who live and work in the countryside.

“It is clear that an efficient, effective and proportionate planning system is a key component to an economic recovery. But we have a planning system that is complex, costly and riddled with delays.

“It needed reform before the Covid-19 crisis hit and that is now more important than ever. It is crucial that rural areas are not left behind when the government reviews the system.”

In the report, the representative for 30,000 rural businesses in England and Wales identifies what it deems to be three challenges that need to be overcome in order for the rural economy to get moving again. They are responding to community needs, levelling up the economy and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It believes that reforming the “restrictive and inefficient” planning system would help to address these challenges.

The CLA maintains that the planning system leads to “wasted expenditure and unrealistic demands, outdated perceptions of the economy in rural areas, and decision-making that seems to fly in the face of rural interests”. 

The report states that “major economic and technological trends have provided new stimuli to innovation and economic development in rural areas, at the same time as more people are seeking ‘quality of life innovations’, many of which are delivered by businesses located in rural areas, or are seen as characteristic of rural areas”.

“Businesses in rural areas are seeking to capitalise on this growing trend, but they must have a transformed planning system to be able to do so.”

The recommendations in the report include:

Short-term actions:

  • Change the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for the rural economy so that it properly reflects the broader economy in rural areas, and brings the economy section to the front of the NPPF.
  • Permitted development rights for new-build affordable housing for rent on rural exception sites. These permitted development rights are aimed at rural landowners who are willing to erect new-build affordable housing for rent on an area of their land to provide critically needed housing aimed at the local community. The CLA’s proposal would allow the construction of between one and up to nine affordable dwellings for rent, on a rural exception site. Prior approval would clearly be required and would need to be the subject of carefully thought-through criteria that may include: location, transport/ highways, siting, design, external appearance, flood risk, noise, contamination, housing need in the settlement and/or parish, housing size, public consultation, short construction period condition and a clause concerning discounted rent. There would also need to be a condition that the housing must be built, retained and managed by the landowner for the benefit of the local community.
  • To encourage farm productivity and innovation, and to deliver consistency across the country, the government must introduce an immediate national exemption from community infrastructure levy (CIL) for all new farm buildings.
  • Resources need to align to the desired planning system to ensure that it is fit for purpose. If the resources are inadequate to run the system, then either resources must be increased or the system must be changed so that it can be operated effectively and efficiently using the resources available. Whichever approach is adopted, it must be communicated to planning authorities and planning applicants, because uncertainty of funding will inevitably lead to a contraction of resources and further service delivery failure. 

Long-term actions:

  • Ensure that land value capture delivers a competitive return to a willing seller.
  • Minerals national planning policy must be applied equitably across the country; the existence of a landscape designation, on its own, should not be a reason to prevent development. The NPPF should be amended so that it provides for specialist quarries producing smaller quantities of some of the important minerals available across the country, whether located in a designated area or not; and states that there may need to be a greater role for mitigation in the decision-making process such that impacts on landscaping and traffic etc are mitigated for.
  • National planning policy should state unequivocally that overly restrictive minerals planning policies are to be avoided if they will lead to a reduction of employment where there are few alternatives, and stagnation of the economy in rural areas on which those very communities rely.

Bridgeman said: “We have a fantastic opportunity to simplify the planning system and unlock a new wave of investment in the countryside.

“Planning reform can be an important ingredient to boost economic development in rural areas and help the recovery. Rural office locations may become more attractive in the light of the coronavirus experience; if that is the case, the planning system needs to be able to respond quickly to emerging demand.

“In the short term, local planning authorities may want to free up vacant office and commercial space for new uses (such as for residential, affordable and sheltered housing). Again, this requires a flexible and fast-planning process.

“Unfortunately, the archaic laws that determine what and where we can build have held back economic development in rural areas. Now is the time for change.”

The government is expected to publish a planning policy paper outlining changes to the system this month (July). 

Rural Powerhouse: A Planning System Designed for the Rural Economy can be found here on the CLA website (pdf). 

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