Bill Clinton became famous for the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”, used as a way of emphasising that, however complex politics may appear to be, people are most concerned about the basic things that affect their lives.
With England’s planning system up for substantial review, it is tempting to shout from the rooftops “It’s about more than house building, stupid”.
Any watering down of investment in community infrastructure or reduction in people’s engagement in the planning process is like to unite opposition from many of us
After WWII, as a contribution to the re-construction of Britain, a study was carried out into how planning could mould the future of rural areas. The study became a book, the book became a film, entitled 24 Square Miles. This sentence comes from the opening page of the book:
“The English countryside affords the best of all settings for life and labour, and the problem of its planning and reconstruction is how to put within reach of the country dweller all the decencies, the amenities, and the opportunities of life, which are regarded nowadays as the normal inheritance of every townsman.”
Written in 1944 and, despite the phraseology being a little arcane, this is exactly what the ACRE Network should be demanding from Planning for the Future, the Government’s planning White Paper. We fear, however, the White Paper has not been well thought through. We must work to influence it if we are to ensure every rural community has the opportunity for an economic, social and environmentally sustainable future.
We will, as a Network, respond to the consultation. It is likely that we will focus most on what we want to see, rather than on the rather curious questions posed within it. This means engaging the whole Network up to the deadline at the end of October. We will organise online Network events through which our members can be involved. Our most immediate concerns are:
- The three proposed categories or ‘zones’: Growth, Renewal and Protected as we have deep concerns about how these might become used in rural areas.
- Any democratic loss that could result from front ending all consultation on local plans and moving to a ‘broadband heavy’ process.
- Scope for the proposed changes to the Infrastructure Levy to deliver affordable homes in rural areas.
- Potential downgrading of Neighbourhood Plans to little more than local design statement.
Next, we are joining a very wide consortium of rural and environmental organisations to see if there is common cause across a wide range of these interests. We may not be able to agree on everything, especially where some have an almost instinctive dislike of any development in rural areas, but there is likely to be a good deal of agreement on some issues. Any watering down of investment in community infrastructure or reduction in people’s engagement in the planning process is like to unite opposition from many of us.
Finally, ACRE will also seek to agree some more detailed principles with other organisations that have a strong focus on the socio-economic future of rural communities. We are not alone in wanting to ensure there is economic opportunity as well as affordable housing for the next generation in rural communities. We will seek to orchestrate a strong voice for this. We already work closely with others such as the Rural Housing Alliance, the Rural Services Network, Plunkett and others and we will look to build on these relationships over the next six weeks.
The future of rural communities could be at stake. It is important we raise our voice and, if necessary, shout from the rooftops.