Review of the Urban/Rural White Papers

The Land Is Ours office at
Mon Jan 15 19:16:40 GMT 2001

Review of the Urban/Rural White Papers :
(see also latest issue of Chapter-7 newsletter, available for £5 year's 
subscription from : Chapter-7, The Potato Store, Flaxdrayton Farm, South 
Petherton, Somerset TA13.  Make cheque/PO out to "Chapter-7").

Both the Urban & Rural White papers were published in November 2000, and 
while each received a generally positive response, criticisms of a 
perceived lack of some vital detail in both were raised.
The Urban White Paper included a variety of ambitious goals armed with a 
clear vision of strategic partnership between central government, community 
groups, local government & Regional Development Agencies (RDAs)  making it 
all happen. Unsurprisingly, the main focus was on development to be 
targeted to brownfield (already government policy, of course). There maybe 
concern that the White Paper has earmarked an overly bureaucratic duplicity 
of strategic partnerships, whose work will hinge on a narrow set of 
objectives - the central one being economic growth.  Particular notice 
should be given to the fact that RDAs  business-led quangos - will have 'a 
strengthened role as strategic leaders of economic development, promoting 
innovation and enterprise in the regions’. A key criticism from The Green 
Party is that there is nothing in the paper about keeping wealth in local 
areas, and methods to strengthen the local economy in ways which provide 
real benefits for the socially excluded. There also remain real concerns 
about how these partnerships will fit in with the many existing area-based 
partnerships (for e.g. in London, the role of the GLA and the LDA), as well 
as the extent to which these partnerships can also be genuinely 
representative of communities they represent.
There was some notable policy omissions in the paper. These included: not 
introducing VAT charges on new greenfield housing development while 
allowing VAT to be cut on housing conversions, VAT to be charged on 
renovations of empty homes, no compulsion on private owners - including 
utility companies - to release landholdings, no tax on vacant land, and 
allowing councils not to be required (only "encouraged") to produce 
strategies for dealing with empty homes.
Meanwhile, the Rural White Paper, published the week after, seems to fail 
to address the fundamental structural problems of the countryside.  At 
best, it at-least moves towards a recognition that in removing the veto on 
the ‘presumption against development on agricultural land’ on what is 
officially called 'the best and most versatile land', ‘agricultural 
productive value’ is no longer the most relevant criterion for land 
protection, and that factors such as biodiversity and landscape are more 
important.  However, at worst, the change in policy is only designed to 
allow farmers to develop alternative job-creating businesses on farms, and 
is little more than a tinkering exercise.  The White paper refuses to take 
a strategic approach to long-term fragmentation in agriculture, and embrace 
land-based regeneration (although the new ERDP initiative featured below is 
a step in the right direction). None of this is surprising considering 
MAFF’s intepretation of the EU’s modulation CAP reforms (their refusal to 
gear subsidy reductions to large farms).
Many aspects of the Rural White paper are to be welcomed (& well overdue 
..for instance: 50% council rebate on second homes to end, receipts from 
this for affordable housing, £192m on rural public transport,  & £270m to 
help post-offices diversify into one-stop shops). However, new relaxation 
of planning laws in the RWPaper to enable farmers to diversify their 
businesses begs the question: diversification to what?  With the removal of 
this veto,  the presumption that this land should not be used is weakened. 
Housing developers might then seek to use this type of land on a more 
regular basis. Despite the newly revised PPG3 Greenfield Housing Direction 
meaning that major greenfield developments will be considered by the 
Secretary of State to assess whether or not they are in line with the new 
PPG3 guidance, to get round the rule of automatic referral to the DETR for 
developments over 5ha, there's nothing to stop authorities designating much 
larger areas for development in their structure plans, which developers 
would then be at liberty to develop piecemeal by putting in applications 
for 149 dwellings at a time.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) pointed out that the 
government's own Performance and Innovation Unit report, Rural Economies, 
said the special protection of best and most versatile land should not be 
abolished before the introduction of a national policy recognising the 
land's environmental value.  What appears to be lacking is the balancing 
commitment to better protection of rural land generally, or land of 
wildlife & landscape importance.
The loss of veto without specific policy underpinning, although giving more 
encouragement to on-the-farm value-adding processing which is good, will 
nevertheless encourage ‘commuter-industry’ to develop on Greenfield (& 
rural out-housing), as well as urban flows of traffic. However, money (£7m) 
to set up more local decision-making to improve community representation on 
town & parish councils can keep this in check, and so, must be welcomed 
(though this is not
universal at present).  [M.B. 14/01/01]
*New * The England Rural Development Programme
The England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) aims to: help develop 
thriving, economically viable and attractive rural communities, through 
schemes which promote a productive, sustainable rural economy; protect and 
enhance the rural environment to safeguard its integrity and value for 
future generations; and support a thriving rural economy, in which farmers 
may continue to produce high quality agricultural products, within an 
environmentally sustainable, attractive landscape.
There are a range of schemes of which some are not just for farmers and 
will be of interest to community groups who are interested in: renovation 
and development of villages and conservation of rural heritage; support for 
tourist and craft activities; forestry and landscape conservation; and 
sustainability and renewable energy.
Scheme includes: Rural Enterprise Scheme (a project based scheme which 
includes 9 measures to support the development of a more sustainable, 
diversified economies and communities and open to some rural businesses and 
community groups); Energy Crops Scheme (a scheme which could aid farmers 
growing crops for a suitable local community energy use); and Countryside 
Stewardship Scheme (open to farmers and non-farming landowners including 
voluntary bodies, local authorities and community groups.  As it is a 
discretionary scheme not all applications are accepted). For details of the 
Rural Enterprise or Countryside Stewardship Schemes, contact your MAFF 
Regional Service Centre (these will be aligned with Government Office 
regions in 2001): Anglia    01223 462 727; East Midlands 0115 929 1191; 
Northern 01228 523 400; North East 01609 773 751; North Mercia 01270 754 
000; South East 0118 939 2256; South Mercia 01905 763 355; South West 01392 
447 400; Wessex 0117 959 1000.  For details of the Energy Crops Scheme 
support for production, contact: MAFF Energy Crops Section Tel: 01270 754 000
Marion Shoard on Newsnight (28/11/00).  Alongside Pete Allen  a hill farmer 
belonging to the Country Landowners Association   Ms. Shoard asserted that 
tourism is an increasingly more prominent land-use in the countryside while 
she questioned the privileged status of farmers in their perceived role as 
being solely food producers.  However, in failing to add to this analysis, 
it was left to Pete Allen to more successfully argue that farmers role in 
the countryside should be more seen as that of being 
‘landmanagers’.  Shoard contradicted herself having already referred to the 
growth of tourism when she mentioned how development in farm out-housing 
was a change for the worse [e.g. more traffic tourism], saying that 
this was already happening and now the white paper will further encourage this.

The TLIO Networking Office

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