The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Balancing Growth: Ensuring Sustainable Development in Rural Areas

The below article was recently published in LOCALGOV, on the need for sustainable development in rural areas.  It is reprinted in full below and can be accessed at this link.

The recent extension of permitted development rights to allow the conversion of disused agricultural buildings into homes and shops has generated significant discussion across rural communities. As the national champion for rural services, the Rural Services Network (RSN) has a vested interest in ensuring that any legislative changes benefit our rural areas without compromising their unique character and needs.

While the intention behind extending permitted development rights is clear—to create more housing and economic opportunities—there are several critical considerations that must be addressed to ensure these changes truly benefit rural areas. The RSN has long advocated for affordable housing in rural regions, but we must emphasise that housing needs to be in the right places with appropriate infrastructure and services.

One of our primary concerns is the potential impact on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and other protected landscapes. Permitted development rights in these areas could undermine their intrinsic qualities such as remoteness, tranquility, and dark skies. The resulting developments might not only spoil these landscapes but also fail to contribute to sustainable rural living. Housing in isolated locations often necessitates car travel, increasing carbon emissions and perpetuating unsustainable living patterns.

Permitted developments often bypass the full planning application process, which can lead to lower-quality housing that does not meet local needs. Without stringent planning controls, these developments may not provide the affordable housing that rural communities desperately need. Simply increasing the number of houses does not solve the housing crisis if these homes are not accessible to those who need them most.

A critical flaw in the extension of permitted development rights is the lack of required infrastructure to support new housing. Schools, healthcare facilities, and public transportation are often insufficient in rural areas. New developments without these essential services will place additional strain on already stretched resources, negatively impacting the quality of life for all residents.

Moreover, the erosion of community participation in the planning process is deeply concerning. Local communities must have a say in how their areas develop to ensure that growth is balanced, sustainable, and reflective of local needs and desires. The fundamental principle of plan-led development, which involves community input, should not be sidelined by expedited development rights.

The potential economic impacts of these changes are also troubling. There is a real risk that viable commercial properties will be converted into housing, diminishing the availability of business premises and undermining the local economy

RSN Position and Recommendations

In response to the Government consultation, in September 2023, the RSN advocated for a more nuanced approach that ensures developments are sustainable, support local economies, and meet the genuine needs of rural populations. Our recommendations included:

  1. Protected Landscapes: Excluding AONBs and similar areas from these new rights to preserve their unique qualities.
  2. Affordable Housing: Ensuring new developments include a significant proportion of affordable housing.
  3. Infrastructure Investment: Prioritising infrastructure development in conjunction with new housing to support sustainable communities.
  4. Local Participation: Maintaining the principle of community participation in planning decisions to reflect local needs and aspirations.
  5. Economic Safeguards: Protecting commercial and tourist accommodations to maintain vibrant local economies.

As we approach the next general election, the RSN reiterates its asks through the "Winning the Rural Vote" campaign, calling on all political parties to commit to policies that genuinely support rural areas.

In conclusion, while the goal of increasing housing and economic opportunities in rural areas is laudable, it must be balanced with the need to protect the environment, ensure high-quality living conditions, and maintain robust local economies. The RSN stands ready to work with the incoming government to achieve these objectives and secure a thriving future for rural communities across England.

Kerry Booth, RSN Chief Executive

"Rural communities are the backbone of our nation, and it is vital that we implement policies that foster their growth and sustainability. We need affordable homes in the right places with access to essential services and infrastructure. The extension of permitted development rights must be carefully managed to ensure it does not undermine the very fabric of rural life."

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