The recently published Government White Paper and Rural Planning Review offer positive news for rural areas, but any success will depend upon specific reforms being framed to facilitate clear co-operation between local authorities, landowners and local communities. We also look forward to further clarification on a number of points.
The White Paper provides renewed emphasis on brownfield sites, and this will bring some sites forward in rural areas. However, it is disappointing that the White Paper does not extend the definition of brownfield sites to include farmsteads, which is a missed opportunity. Many redundant farmsteads are sited on the edges of existing settlements where development would provide a sustainable way to grow some rural communities.
The requirement for Local Planning Authorities to adopted a positive approach to windfall sites and undeveloped sites within settlements also needs further clarification. We would expect it to confirm the intention to permit small levels of growth in rural communities, including where no settlement boundary is in place.
We would also welcome a more place-sensitive approach – any infill within a village must not be at the cost of losing valued historic green spaces, which help to define the character and add to the charm and desirability of rural communities. Account should be taken of the historic morphology of villages and towns.
In principal, the renewed emphasis on well-designed schemes is to be welcomed and should help smooth the passage of a proposal through the planning process as communities should be more accepting of attractive and appropriate developments.
However, it is important that any design controls excercised in neighbourhood plans do not make schemes more expensive to deliver, as this would render them unviable. While good design does not have to expensive – and there are plenty of examples of this – it all depends upon who is part of the decision making process: in order for this emphasis not to contradict the drive to make housing more affordable and deliverable, control of the review process will need to be in the right hands.
The scope for landowners to build homes under the build-to-rent initiative is an exciting one. It enables landowners to strengthen their let residential portfolio, while the provision for a proportion of affordable homes will bring hope to those areas where average house prices have priced out sectors of a traditional rural community. In the same way, the provision to support Starter Homes for first-time buyers who would otherwise be priced out of the market is welcomed.
The Rural Planning Review seeks to align existing Class Q permitted development rights by increasing the threshold from 450 sq m to 465 sq m, with the current permitted development right threshold for development for agricultural workers. It is proposed that this would allow conversion of up to 750 sq m, for a maximum of five new dwellings, each with a floor space of no more than 150 sq m to further support delivery of rural homes for rural workers.