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24/08/2015

Concerns raised over chancellor’s Rural Productivity Plan

Words: Laura Edgar

The government’s Rural Productivity Plan has been cautiously welcomed by some - but others have expressed concerns.

Published last week by chancellor George Osborne and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss, Towards A One Nation Economy: A 10-point Plan For Boosting Productivity In Rural Areas set out measures  to boost the rural economy through investment in infrastructure and the devolving of powers. Plans include the amendment of planning rules to allow starter homes to be built on rural exception sites for the first time, and making it easier for villages to establish a neighbourhood plan, enabling them “to thrive”.

Writing in The Telegraph, Osborne and Truss said the lack of housing in rural areas is a “scandal” while people are taking “flight” from the city to the country”.

Andrew Bickerdike, associate director in Turley’s Manchester office, believes “the devil will be in the detail” . Speaking to The Planner,  Bickerdike said he was concerned about the “continued reliance” on neighbourhood plans as “a vehicle to deliver housing”.

Bickerdike also questioned whether neighbourhood plans could deliver housing in towns and villages, explaining that most “generally seek to protect” villages in their current form, making it more challenging to build housing.

"If more houses are to be delivered, there needs to be a move away from neighbourhood plans", said Bickerdike.

Development director at London home-builder HUB Steve Sanham said the report's use of words was “a little laughable”.

“The real scandal, and the reason for the flight to the countryside, is this government’s inability and unwillingness to address the shortage of mid-market homes in London.”

 

Sanham said that “headline-grabbing initiatives” to provide rural areas with “discounted homes” will do nothing for the “vast majority of home owners” who won’t be able to earn enough to buy their own home on the open market.

 

On the other hand, Stewart Baseley, executive chairman at the Home Builders Federation, said that it was encouraging that the government had recognised the “central role housing plays in a vibrant rural economy”.

“Each new homes creates more four jobs”, he said, as well as representing an investment in the area.

“The focus on removing obstacles in the planning process to get more new homes built is the right one. It will mean more homes, more jobs and, crucially, help support medium-sized house building companies and start-ups to deliver more of the homes that are so desperately needed,” said Baseley.

 

The government’s plan to increase rural productivity must not be viewed in isolation, though, “or in opposition to the needs of the urban area”, said Ben Harrison, director of partnerships at think tank Centre for Cities.

With people commuting from rural areas to cities – one in five according to Centre for Cities – strategies to boost rural economies should also consider how to strengthen links between urban and rural areas.

“Building homes and improving transport links in rural areas close to cities where house prices are increasingly unaffordable, such as Cambridge, Oxford or London, would help those places to continue to grow, providing more job opportunities for residents across the whole area, and boosting the national economy too,” said Harrison.

 

David Bainbridge, group partners at Bidwells, said the plan appears “intended to provide more tools in the tool box for local authorities”.

But, he added: “There has to be a willing to put resources in place to work with landowners, developers and local stakeholders to facilitate delivery of new housing.”

While the plan must help local authorities boost housing in rural areas, concluded Bainbridge, “it is not likely to be anywhere near enough".

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