Stuart Burgess: The rural debate has forgotten what matters - the people


The debate around the Government's draft National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) is in danger of losing sight of the needs of those who are most likely to be affected by it: the residents of rural communities.

A 2010 analysis by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), the independent watchdog which I chair, indicated that the housing built in rural areas over the past decade will only partially meet the increasing annual demand for housing for local rural households.

Many young people are moving out of rural areas because there is no affordable housing. At the same time, the number of second homes in the countryside, used for only part of the year, is increasing. This makes rural communities less sustainable, and drives services and businesses into more profitable urban locations.

Concerns about building on green belt land in the relentless pursuit of growth may be valid, but through the Localism Bill, provisions are being introduced to ensure that councils will be able to protect the green belt as part of their local plans. This important check, if carried out properly, will be crucial in ensuring that the countryside we all cherish is preserved, while also assisting the people who live in rural areas to thrive.

However, the CRC has two key concerns about the localism agenda and the NPPF.

First, the framework suggests that in the interests of sustainability, new housing should not be built in communities distant from rural services. There is no benefit in this for those villages which have seen their shops, post offices, pubs and schools close. Once services have gone, the framework seems to imply that there is no prospect of them returning.

Second, there is also no mention in the framework of exception sites – land provided in perpetuity for affordable housing. Rural social landlords, planning to build new dwellings for local families, are uncertain whether the cost of such sites will increase if their exception designation is lifted. I have asked the Government to clarify this point as a matter of urgency.

We need an injection of sense into this debate. The Government should clarify what is meant by the presumption in favour of sustainable development in order to mitigate concerns about unreasonable new building in rural locations. Few accept that young people brought up in rural areas should have to move out because they are unable to afford to buy a property in their home town, village or hamlet. Small developments of 10 or 12 affordable dwellings for local people are surely desirable, and will not change the character of the places in which they are built.

Rural communities should be encouraged to develop robust neighbourhood plans, as envisaged in the legislation, which allow for this kind of development. The neighbourhood plan for a rural community should prevent excessive development precisely because the people who draw it up are locals who want to maintain the character of their areas.

We need to use the new planning framework to get the balance right between environmental concerns and the needs of rural communities. As Rural Advocate I took a non-partisan view and I would be happy to help bring together the different sides in this debate.

Dr Stuart Burgess chairs the Commission for Rural Communities and was Rural Advocate from 2006 to 2010

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Should America pay ISIS ransom money to free hostages like Jim Foley?

Kim Sengupta

The Malky Mackay allegations raise the spectre of Britain's casual racism

Chris Maume
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home