Sector: Agriculture & Rural Estates
People want to live in villages. Urban living is not for everyone but it offers a cheaper, convenient way of life and statistics demonstrate that people are moving out of rural areas into urban areas simply because they are priced out of villages. Sadly, this can only be to the detriment of rural communities where they are unable to thrive and, in many cases, has caused the closure of local facilities such as post offices and shops which, in turn, require travel by car to other centres ironically rendering a village unsustainable.
Enabling people to stay in their own communities can boost local businesses and services, along with providing the lifeline to keep local schools and GP surgeries open. It can improve sustainability of a community by reducing the need to travel to these services. A mix of good quality housing is essential if a community is to evolve in a sustainable way taking account of the importance of balancing heritage preservation with the needs of the present and future.
Recently, we secured planning permission for four houses on a redundant farm site on the edge of a small village that was not on the ‘settlement hierarchy’. Despite boasting 100 homes and being close to services, the council considered the proposal to be contrary to policy. With careful design and support from the community and the parish council, the application was approved at planning committee unanimously. The application took a year to get to committee due to the objections from departments within the council yet the Members could see through the policy to the logic of the proposal and the material benefits it brought with it. It should not have taken this long, but the settlement was considered to be unsustainable which is effectively a blanket ‘no’ for any new residential development. The consequence of this is additional pressure on our towns to build even larger urban extensions and for our small settlements to decline or turn into gated communities for the wealthy.
But the world and the way people live their lives is changing. The definition of sustainability may well change in the future as electric cars are more commonplace, reducing the impact on the environment, the use of delivery services reducing the amount of shopping trips, and the introduction of superfast fibre optic broadband realising more opportunities for the growing sector of home working. Might this push the planning system into becoming more flexible allowing and indeed embracing opportunities for small settlements to grow organically and flourish rather than wither? Let’s hope so.
Associate, Alison Whalley writes for today’s Farmers Guardian.