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Press Release Monday, August 16 2010
"Do Or Die" Challenge For Rural Communities
Britain's rural villages are at risk of dying unless radical action is taken to secure their future, it is being warned.
A newly formed Rural Coalition, made up of leading organisations which represent rural interests, is calling on the Government to deliver on its Big Society vision by radically empowering local people to shape the rural places in which they live.  They are warning that without this action, rural services face meltdown as spending is cut, housing will outprice all but the wealthiest, and rural wages will continue to lag as much as 20% behind urban averages
Today the Rural Coalition publishes The Rural Challenge, a report outlining detailed proposals to give local people, entrepreneurs, community groups and councils the ability to bring about positive change that will ensure a thriving future for the countryside. The report is being billed as a blueprint for delivering the Big Society in the small places which are at huge risk unless action is taken now.
The Rural Challenge report sets out detailed propositions for taking on five key challenges facing the countryside ? meeting rural housing need, building thriving economies, delivering good rural services, creating flourishing market towns and empowering local communities. The Rural Coalition, chaired by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, believes this can be achieved by letting communities seize the initiative.
Key recommendations of the report include:
The coalition is made up of, and supported by, an unprecedented range of bodies from the private, public and charity sector.
Chairman Matthew Taylor, who authored the Taylor Review of affordable housing and rural economies in 2008, said:
"On its current course, with no change in policy and no commitment to action, much of the countryside is becoming part dormitory, part theme park and part retirement home.
"We need a fundamental change of approach at both national and local levels to give rural communities a more sustainable future. The rural coalition believes the Government's commitment to localism and the Big Society opens the door to those reforms - but as yet there is a very real risk that in practice cuts will fall heaviest in rural communities which may lose services altogether, and opportunities will be missed to make rural communities prosper.
"For 50 years or more, policy has undervalued the countryside and failed to meet the needs of rural communities. The result is starkly apparent: rural communities have become increasingly less sustainable and less self-sufficient. Today we publish a blueprint for the Big Society in small places - if the Government is serious about localism, it should rise to the challenge."

The Rural Coalition comprises the following organisations:

  • Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).
  • Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
  • The Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
  • The Local Government Group (LG Group).
  • The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
  • The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA).

    The Commission for Rural Communities brought the Rural Coalition together in September 2008 and has supported the Rural Coalition Chair and its Members with the production of this report and with technical advice on its content.

    The Rural Coalition has also been supported and advised by:

  • Action for Market Towns (AMT).
  • The Rural Services Network (RSN).
  • The Carnegie UK Trust Rural Community Development Programme.
  • The Plunkett Foundation.

    Further helpful advice has been provided by:

  • The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).
  • English Heritage (EH).
  • National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
  • The National Housing Federation (NHF).
  • The English National Parks Authorities Association (ENPAA).

    This report The Rural Challenge. Achieving sustainable rural communities for the 21st century

    PDF file

    August 16th 2010 ~ " a reinvigorated planning system, in which local communities and councils are empowered to shape their neighbourhoods"

      The report "The Rural Challenge: achieving sustainable rural communities for the 21st century" was launched today by the newly formed Rural Coalition. It gives serious warning that without action, rural services face "meltdown" as spending is cut. It makes 38 clear recommendations and is written in plain English of a clarity that puts the obfuscation of certain Permanent Secretaries to shame. Extract:
        "....People have reasonable expectations that they pay their taxes to have public services delivered to them, by people who have the professional competence to do so. Letting people shape how this happens, giving them the opportunity to complement it by volunteering, or letting them deliver it through a mechanism like a social enterprise in which people are paid fairly for what they do, is appropriate.
        'We're pulling out, over to you' is not.
        Providing feedback through the process which builds confidence in its genuineness. 'You said, we did', for example, is an effective technique for building assurance that time spent in a meeting after work is worthwhile compared with staying home with the television...."

      Summary of the 38 recommendations

      Recommendation 1

      Local authorities should formally take into account community-led plans, where they have been developed, in the preparation of local plans.

      Recommendation 2

      Most decisions on the future development or otherwise of rural communities must be taken locally. This does not require the current 2,500 pages of national planning guidance, but sustainable development in the countryside is of national importance and deserves some clear statements of principle in any new national planning policy framework - including that local planning policy must balance the protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment in the countryside with ensuring the economic and social viability of rural communities.

      Recommendation 3

      Local plans should be based on a thorough understanding of local rural economies and society, a comprehensive assessment of the social, economic, and environmental criteria determining sustainable development, and genuine and effective engagement with local communities (individually and collectively).

      Recommendation 4

      We welcome the Government's commitment to community-led development and commend the Local Housing Trust proposals in principle as a contribution to the developing policy. But the Government should reconsider whether the potential for as few as 10% of residents to block development, and the requirement for community ownership, undermine the intention of the policy. We propose that local communities have assurance that if they bring forward a small scheme to meet locally-identified needs, and it meets six key criteria (Parish Council support agreed by the community in a community-led plan, evidence of need, appropriate scale, a suitable viable site, affordable in perpetuity, and good design), local planning policy should favour granting consent.

      Recommendation 5

      An appropriate extension of policy on Local Housing Trusts should enable communityowned schemes to comprise a mix of uses, according to the communities' needs - which might include one or more of: affordable housing, workspace, retail, recreational space, community facilities, and sites for renewable energy production.

      Recommendation 6

      To maximise the ability of Local Authorities to support affordable housing delivery financially, the Government should:
    • Give Councils the freedom to manage the finances of their own housing, through implementing reform of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) system.
    • Give Councils the power to keep all income from selling existing Council homes. Councils can keep funding from the sale of newly built homes under the Right to Buy legislation (currently 75% of funds from the sale of existing properties still goes to the Treasury).

      Recommendation 7

      The Government should include in the forthcoming Decentralisation and Localism Bill provision to make the local plan the sole mechanism whereby green and open space is designated and protected; or at least (i) introduce a fast-track preliminary stage to the Town and Village Green registration process whereby groundless and vexatious claims can be dismissed rapidly and (ii) rule out applications after planning permission has been granted for development on the land.

      Recommendation 8

      The Government should explore and develop with the HCA, Housing Associations and Local Authorities options for intermediate affordable housing to deliver more affordable homes less grant to meet local needs, to support informed decision-making by Housing Associations and Local Authorities on what would work in particular communities.

      Recommendation 9

      The Government should bring forward advice on how Local Authorities and communities can encourage landowners to provide low-cost land and/or affordable housing, building on the CLG consultation on guidance for local authorities on incentivising landowners to bring forward land for affordable housing on rural exception sites.

      Recommendation 10

      New national policy on renewable energy should steer local plans to permit small-scale renewable energy developments in the countryside unless there are unacceptable adverse impacts on other national and local planning objectives.

      Recommendation 11

      We welcome the Government's proposals for a 'Green Deal' to finance and deliver energy efficiency improvements to existing housing. The detailed design of this programme needs to take into account that costs will be higher where housing is less concentrated, and that in some rural areas high-cost building types (for example solid wall) predominate. Government should carefully test the viability of wholly privately financed models in rural areas, and ensure any necessary top-up via supplier obligation funding. It should also ensure that the franchising arrangements for advisers and suppliers do not exclude smaller businesses.

      Recommendation 12

      Where they have significant rural territory, Local Enterprise Partnerships should ensure that they have a strong rural voice, and specific strategies and programmes for enterprise and employment in rural areas. These strategies should carefully consider in particular how rural economies function and can be sustained, while protecting the character of the countryside.

      Recommendation 13

      Government should consult on how any redesigned business support services can best meet the needs of businesses located in rural areas (whether land based or not) who may have different advice requirements and access to support from those based in urban areas.

      Recommendation 14

      Local government should adopt clear policies to promote, protect and maintain a good supply of appropriate sites and premises for all kinds of businesses in smaller rural communities (including sparsely populated and peripheral areas) - adopting a sensitive but flexible approach to the conversion of farm buildings and farm diversification; and better support for existing business to expand within the community through extensions to existing buildings and new build. Where the potential local impact has been shown to not threaten the quality of rural places or the architectural and/or historic merits of buildings, and subject to conformity with other local planning policies, conversion or building of small-scale business premises in rural areas should be promoted, and where there is oversupply conversion to residential use should also be sympathetically considered.

      Recommendation 15

      Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships should consider strategic reviews of the redundant traditional farm building stock in their areas in order to develop evidence-based planning policies for its adaptive re-use for business or housing purposes.

      Recommendation 16

      The new Government should ensure that national planning policy and guidance does not prevent Local Authorities from introducing a much more supportive approach to workspace alterations or extensions to the home to encourage appropriate local business growth, by making appropriate changes to Part 1 of the General Permitted Development Order.

      Recommendation 17

      The Government should conduct a review of the tax regime in relation to work-based home extensions and small-scale premises to remove perverse disincentives in the tax system to homebased work and especially employment creation. For example, to encourage employment creation a de minimis percentage of the home used for business could be introduced before business

      Recommendation 18

      The Government proposals on broadband should encourage the most appropriate means by which communities can obtain high-speed broadband access, whether through commercial supply or community-led initiatives. In building cost-benefit models of projects to secure better broadband speeds, partners should consider potential savings to public service delivery costs that can result from e-delivery.

      Recommendation 19

      Before finalising the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government should review the proportionate impact in rural areas and take proper account of the additional costs faced by those providing essential services across rural areas.

      Recommendation 20

      The Government and statutory bodies should recognise that the targeting of initiatives using large-area statistical data fails to recognise existence of dispersed rural deprivation. When using geographical data of any kind, Government and public sector agencies should ensure that they have considered whether small-area data that is more reflective of the rural context exists, or can be obtained. This should then form the basis for the development of priorities and service delivery programmes in the area.

      Recommendation 21

      Where the Government considers extending competition in core utilities, consideration should be given to what Universal Service Obligations are needed to ensure that companies do not 'cherry-pick' urban areas, with resulting reduced services or increased costs for dispersed rural communities.

      Recommendation 22

      We welcome the Government commitment scaling back inspection frameworks and activity, and reviewing regulatory systems health and safety, provided they ensure that attention is given to 'rural proofing' proposals. The objectives should include helping public services and the third sector in rural areas less unnecessarily risk-averse about innovative low-cost approaches to service delivery.

      Recommendation 23

      The Government's proposals on the 'Community Right to Bid' need to encompass two alternative approaches, so that appropriate solutions can meet local circumstances through 'like for like' services via commissioning, or through community-led initiatives that extend the reach of public services or provide partial solutions to retaining local provision, particularly where the service would otherwise lack viability.

      Recommendation 23a

      The Government's proposals on the 'Community Right to Buy' should build on the mechanisms already in place to support community enterprise replacement of key retail services, ensuring that resulting policies recognise the time taken to develop community enterprises.

      Recommendation 24

      The Government should work with the Post Office to achieve a full a range of financial services through rural Post Office branches, providing local banking services for small businesses and vulnerable people, and supporting a sustainable rural Post Office network.

      Recommendation 25

      Public service providers should consider options for shared or multi-purpose service outlets, outreach and mobile services, before instituting cuts to services. These can provide more cost-effective options - including delivery through public and private community facilities, from village halls to Post Offices and pubs.

      Recommendation 26

      Government proposals to work with the private sector to develop IT infrastructure should take account of the opportunities to improve access and reduce the cost of providing public services in rural communities through services such as tele-health, e-learning, virtual colleges, and access to Jobcentre Plus services etc., including the benefits of wiring up community facilities like village halls as a first step.

      Recommendation 27

      Local strategic transport planning should greater account of access issues for dispersed rural communities, to ensure that they are effectively linked to regional and national and rail networks. Subsidy for local public transport in rural areas should be prioritised towards innovative programmes that support community solutions where these can offer costly solutions than traditional public transport offers better suited to urban centres.

      Recommendation 28

      The Eco-Towns PPS should be evolved into information and advice on the development of sustainable communities and neighbourhoods, applicable to all types of growth, not just a handful of stand-alone new eco-towns.

      Recommendation 29

      Local Authorities should adopt policies to ensure that the creation of new neighbourhoods and communities always involves the community in shaping sustainable proposals through effective participation such as ' by Design' and 'Planning for Real'.

      Recommendation 30

      The Government and the HCA should, as part of the development of the new national planning policy framework and the review of planning powers, ensure that the tools and best practice know-how are available to Local Authorities/ private sector partnerships to deliver 'whole community' developments; to deliver strong vibrant new communities and better infrastructure and services; and to deliver at much less cost to the taxpayer, including the use of site assembly through compulsory purchase when necessary.

      Recommendation 31

      Local Authorities should prioritise access to green space in new community developments, adopting the Natural England recommendation that people living in towns and cities should have 'an accessible natural green space, of at least 2 hectares in size, no more than 300metres (5 minutes' walk) from home'.

      Recommendation 32

      The HCA should work with Local Authorities and other bodies to provide sustainable funding models for the long-term management of green infrastructure in new communities and neighbourhoods, built on ground rent and longterm income streams from public investment.

      Recommendation 33

      The Government should recognise and adopt community-led planning as 'best practice', and should identify quality standards for delivering it, as part of putting in place the mechanisms to underpin the 'Big Society'.

      Recommendation 34

      If the 'Right to Bid' leads communities to offer lower-cost voluntary solutions to retaining public services they do not wish to lose and which are under threat for financial reasons, Local Authorities and public agencies should look at diverting some of the savings made by withdrawing their services into supporting such small-scale, lower-cost, community-led solutions.

      Recommendation 35

      Parish and Town Councils should become the 'guardian' of the community-led plan, monitoring progress and regularly refreshing priorities in the light of changing circumstances, as part of their Power of Competence. Many of the actions may affect property owned by them, or services delivered by them. Many will involve the financial support that parishes can offer to local groups who also own property and provide services.

      Recommendation 36

      Parish and community level councils should be encouraged to prepare and publish a community action plan every four years. Higher-tier authorities should consider these plans within their own strategic planning processes.

      Recommendation 37

      To deliver the 'Big Society', localism and empowered communities, the Government needs to start by building local delivery capacity. Support organisations (such as ACRE, Planning Aid, etc.) should, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, gain longerterm stability in their Government funding to help facilitate community planning and community capacity-building. Individuals should also be encouraged to offer pro bono support - for example planning aid as part of Continuing Professional Development.

      Recommendation 38

      We welcome the new Government's commitment to localism. The planned Decentralisation and Localism Bill provides an excellent opportunity to remove some of the barriers to effective, accountable leadership in rural areas, including taking measures to encourage Local Authorities to devolve to communities part of any benefits gained through accepting more development in their area to support community facilities and community-led services.