At the Future Countryside Conference on 6th June 2023, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, Therese Coffey, unveiled a new government initiative, ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’, to support growth and prosperity in rural areas.

This comes after the government promises to provide greater planning certainty to support the rural economy at the UK Farm to Fork Summit, which we discussed in our May blog. 

This blog takes a look at what the new initiative entails and what impact it could have on planning. 

What is ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’?

The policy paper ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’ sets out the government’s plan to help rural communities, support farmers and improve the quality of life for those living and working in the countryside.

Its primary aim is to help create jobs and drive economic prosperity in rural areas through four broad themes; housing, communities, connectivity and growth. 

The paper recognises the importance of farming and rural community and farmers’ role in creating a thriving countryside and levelling up rural communities.

What is Included in the Plan?

The plan reveals the government’s support for rural diversification schemes and new, agricultural-related development and calls for more flexibility within the planning system. 

A public consultation will be launched “shortly” on possible changes to permitted farm development rights. The consultation will focus on ways currently permitted development rights can be made more flexible so that it’s easier for farmers to reuse existing agricultural buildings for more productive purposes.

Regarding rural housing supply, the government will fund a network of ‘Rural Housing Enablers’ across England with £2.5 million to act as brokers between developers and communities to identify sites with local support for development. This aims to boost the supply of new, affordable housing in rural areas for local communities. 

To assist with retaining planners in the industry, the Government will discuss with the Planning Advisory Service whether more training is required for local planning authorities, specifically regarding the needs of the rural economy, to give planners a more rounded understanding of decision-making. 

In issuing the policy paper ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’, the government has recognised the vital role rural communities play in the country’s economy and that the planning system needs to adapt to sustain the future of farming and allow rural communities to thrive. 

The full Unleashing Rural Opportunity document can be found here.

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