Sir: The Earl of Lytton's response (letter, 30 August) to Nick Brown's letter (26 August) reproduces an oft-repeated but largely unsubstantiated thesis regarding planning, the economy of rural areas and land management. The thesis is this. Farmers face increasing financial pressures and are tired of filling in forms (which netted them the tidy sum of pounds 884m last year for arable compensation and set-aside payments alone). "Dirigiste" planners are stifling farmers' entrepreneurial zeal, preventing them diversifying their activities and hence reducing resources for countryside management. Ergo, doing away with "negative and prescriptive policies" (ie. deregulating planning) will unleash a flood of new farming incomes which will be used to manage the countryside and keep it beautiful.
Unfortunately, what little research there is fails to support this thesis in any of its aspects.
First, there is no evidence to support the view that planners are restricting rural economic activity. Nearly 90 per cent of planning applications are granted. Government research has shown local authorities to be broadly supportive of rural economic development and preparing planning policies in line with national guidance.
Second, a comprehensive Exeter University study of farm diversification has concluded that "there is no justification for diversification being held up as one of the primary solutions to the problem of declining incomes from farming".
Third, research suggests, not surprisingly, that whether farmers use non-farming incomes to manage the countryside depends mainly on what kind of people they are, rather than whether the money is available.
Senior Land Use Officer
Council for the Protection of Rural England