Rural Issues Raised in Westminster Planning Debate

Last Thursday (15th July), Bob Seely MP called a Westminster Hall Debate on the future of the planning system and the upcoming Planning Bill

The Rural Services Network put together a short briefing note which was sent to MPs with rural interests prior to the debate highlighting key issues for rural communities.

The debate lasted for an hour and a half and a number of MPs raised specific rural issues. Bob Seely MP had called for reform rather than ‘scrapping and starting again’ and highlighted the issue where ‘9 in 10 planning applications are approved, but only 60% of permissions are built.’

The challenges that second home ownership produces in rural areas, with increasing house prices and a lack of full time residents was highlighted by several MPs during the debate.

Tim Farron MP, talked of the impact on the private rental market as tenants are being evicted so that properties in holiday areas can be advertised as Airbnb for significantly more rent. He called for the Government to change planning law, ‘The Government should change planning law so that holiday lets and second homes are separate categories of planning use, and they should give the Lake District national park, the Yorkshire Dales national park, South Lakeland District Council and all planning authorities the power and the resource to police that, so that the leakage of those homes out of the family home market is prevented.’

Andrew Griffith MP highlighted the need for development to be appropriate and suitable to local need. He talked of developments providing the wrong homes in the wrong places which would put ‘unsustainable strain on infrastructure, such as medical services, GPs, schools and transport.’

‘We have exceeded the number of houses that are built in the community, yet we have nowhere for local people to live. For over four years we have built more than we required, yet we still do not have places local people can live in.’ Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon raised some key issues for her rural area. 

She continued, ‘The market is broken. In the village where I am this afternoon, a two-bedroom apartment in need of renovation is currently on the market at £750,000—with a communal garden. Something is not working here in North Devon. The final point I will make is that we need to find a way to ensure that councils can raise revenue when people wish to convert a property into a holiday let, and that there are more protections in the market. The private rental sector is now non-existent here; we need to find a way to ensure that there are more privately rented properties, as well as homes that are affordable for local families to buy.’

The Rural Services Network had raised the below points in their briefing to the MP’s prior to the event:

The Planning White Paper in its current state raises significant concern for delivery of rural affordable housing. Government statistics show a chronic shortage of affordable housing in rural areas, with last year only 5,558 new affordable homes built in rural communities with fewer than 3,000 residents in 2019. House prices in rural areas are, on average £90,000 more than in urban (excluding London)

It's crucial that planning proposals to raise the threshold that triggers affordable housing contributions are not reintroduced. Indeed Many rural residential developments tend to be smaller than 10 homes (the current threshold) , therefore  already  many rural communities may see no affordable homes being provided at all as planning gain.

The proposed ‘First Homes Exception Sites’ will seriously impact the availability of much-needed rural affordable homes for rent – the over-riding need across rural areas. Landowners will inevitably be attracted to sell their land for First Homes Exception Sites, meaning areas are less likely to have a mix of affordable homes tailored to the specific needs of the community.

Small changes to the proposals could avoid these risks whilst achieving the government’s overall ambition:

  • Replace the definition of designated rural areas to all parishes with a population of 3,000 or fewer
  • Revisit allowing local planning authorities to set their own thresholds for affordable housing in their rural communities.
  • Proposals to drop community consultation from the planning application process (except for technical matters) should be reversed and local planning authorities should be able to decide the tenure of affordable housing, based on needs in their areas.

Graham Biggs, CX of the Rural Services Network said ‘ It is critical that rural communities are allowed to thrive and the many key workers who have been so important during the pandemic and beyond, are able to afford to live in the communities they serve. Current proposals set out in the Planning White Paper must take this into consideration if they are to deliver that objective.’


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