Tuesday, 18 January 2011 08:43

Localism 'must support rural growth'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Localism 'must support rural growth'

THE government's proposed Localism Bill must do more to help deliver rural economic growth, say business leaders.

The Country Land and Business Association said it supported the Bill's aim to create a "Big Society" and give local people a far greater say in decisions that affect local communities.

But it warned that a number of amendments were needed to be made to help sustain the rural economy.

These amendments should include:

· A presumption in favour of sustainable development to help provide investor certainty and encourage much needed small-scale economic activity in rural areas

· A clear definition of an 'asset of community value' otherwise, if the local authority deems privately owned assets as of value to the community it could become a means for the authority to compulsorily acquire privately owned property without the checks and balances of the existing compulsory purchase process.

· Continuation of the power of local authorities to grant reliefs to businesses in rural areas. If this exemption is scrapped and replaced with powers to grant relief only to charitable or not-for-profit enterprises, it will put the rural economy at a considerable disadvantage.

CLA president William Worsley said: "I believe this Bill has the potential to help protect and enhance the viability of rural communities but it must do more to deliver much needed economic growth in the countryside.

"The government's proposed reform of the planning system risks actually hindering rural growth.

"Developments to create new businesses and jobs, affordable housing and renewable energy projects so often do not go ahead because the system is too slow, complicated and expensive that the landowner simply gives up trying.

Mr Worsley said he would like to see a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the Localism Bill to help provide investor certainty and encourage much needed small-scale economic activity in rural areas, rather than the presumption that a project would not go ahead in the first instance.

He said he was extremely concerned about the impact on property rights and economic enterprise by the Bill's clause giving power to communities to save local assets threatened by closure or sale.

"There is no definition of what makes an 'asset of community value' so the range could be extremely wide, from pubs and post offices to land and local woodland in private ownership.

"If the local authority deems privately owned assets as of value to the community it could become a means for the authority to compulsorily acquire privately owned property without being subject to the checks and balances of the existing compulsory purchase process."

Mr Worsley said the Bill's proposal to give local authorities more discretion over rate reliefs will have a detrimental impact on the rural economy.

He added: "At present, local authorities have the power to grant reliefs to businesses in rural areas.

"If this exemption is scrapped as the Bill proposes, and replaced with powers to grant relief to charitable or not-for-profit enterprises, it will put the rural economy at a considerable disadvantage."

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