Ministers '˜must act' on stalled planning reforms to help rural businesses

MINISTERS are being urged to act on stalled planning reforms campaigners say are holding back rural businesses.

A year ago this week, then-chancellor George Osborne and former Defra secretary Liz Truss committed to delivering a 10-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas, pledging to review planning rules that were holding back communities, jobs and growth.

A consultation on reforms followed in February 2016 but so far, rural communities have seen no outcomes and inaction is harming all those who live and work in the countryside, the CLA said.

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It says thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses are being held back by the “delays, inefficiencies and inflexibilities” of the planning system.

CLA President Ross Murray said: “It is hard enough for businesses to take steps to invest but it can become impossible when faced with confusing, slow and obstructive planning rules.

“Farm businesses, in particular, need to invest to increase productivity and resilience. This can mean building new and improved storage facilities or on-farm reservoirs for better irrigation and reduce flooding risk. For other businesses, the best opportunities are in diversification thereby developing alternative income streams such as housing, leisure or in retail, which make the core farming business more secure.

“That is why the Rural Planning Review announced a year ago was so important. We, along with many others, engaged constructively with the Review laying out a number of simple improvements that would have an immediate beneficial effect. Ministers must now act. Every day of further delay is damaging given the urgent need to boost investment and growth across the rural economy.”

Gordon Hawcroft is just one of those frustrated by the lack of action.

Traditionally an arable and pig farm, his 425-acre Holme Lodge Farm at Holme on Spalding Moor, now has 150 acres in stewardship and the pigs are gone, replaced with a holiday accommodation business.

But his plans to expand have been thwarted by the planning process. While the farmhouse has been converted into accommodation, plans for holiday lodges were turned down in April.

Mr Hawcroft said: “East Yorkshire is an open resource as far as tourism is concerned, but we have to be able to provide quality accommodation, of which there is a chronic shortage in the area. Farmers have the solutions. But the efforts we have made to try to improve our business have been floundered by planners.”

A Government spokesman said: “We’re determined to help rural economies thrive which is why we are devolving more powers, improving mobile and broadband coverage and cutting red tape for rural businesses.

“We’ve also extended permitted development rights and issued guidance to make it easier to convert underused buildings into other businesses and much needed homes. This has already led to an increase in approvals of around two thirds for housing.

“We have undertaken a thorough consultation and further details of the review will be published soon.”

REFORMS proposed by the CLA include expanding the scope of successful permitted development rights to make it easier and more certain for farmers to invest.

They include loosening restrictions on what farms shops can sell and help promote on-farm reservoirs. The CLA want rights to erect small buildings extending to general agricultural buildings, and improvement on the conversion of farm buildings to homes, which it say is a successful policy that is being held back by “the obstructionist attitudes” of local authorities, with half of all applications being refused.