Communities and the new rural economy – a role for Neighbourhood Planning?

8 November 2018

Communities and the new rural economy – a role for Neighbourhood Planning?

When it comes to the role and potential of Neighbourhood Planning, much of the attention of governments and neighbourhoods has been on housing.

This follows from the well-documented need for such development. However the need to look at strengthening and embedding local business in rural areas has become increasingly important. Policies such as the recent UK industrial strategy highlight a need to improve productivity and to bolster the rural economy. The looming exit from the European Union and subsequent new trading conditions is certainly concentrating some minds. The impact on farming and of SMEs in rural areas could present many difficulties - as well as presenting new opportunities and spaces for innovation. Hence the need for effective planning and local policy to enable sustainable growth. It is clear that new activity will be needed to consolidate rural employment.

Local communities may hold some of the solutions, and indeed the mobilisation of local opinion to allow rural economic development to flourish can be crucial - both in the planning stages but also to support and provide both workforce and customers for new rural economic activity. My work looking at the role of communities in local policy and agenda setting spans two decades now, and this research has prominently featured Neighbourhood Planning.

Since 2011, Neighbourhood Planning has developed considerable momentum, with over 2,300 neighbourhoods across England actively creating plans. These plans become part of the formal planning system and are produced by communities and partners to cover many land use topics. They can add detail and promote necessary finesse to enable particular activities and developments to thrive - if appropriate to the neighbourhood context. I recently gave oral evidence on this to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy about how this tool and other aspects of the planning environment might be altered to assist the rural economy.

In short, the role of Neighbourhood Planning is to provide a framework and space for deliberations over such matters, but for rural employment questions this has been rather limited so far. Neighbourhood Planning is meant to provide a policy space for local neighbourhoods to write their own futures, but without better facilitation and wider understandings of the need to restructure the rural economy it could be that local communities resist rather than positively shape such change. Worse still, their views and insights may be left untapped and unheard.