Rural productivity plan
On 20 August 2015, the government published its first Rural Productivity Plan.
The plan points out that rural local authority areas in England contribute around 16% of England’s Gross Value Added (GVA) and that unlike many other OECD countries, the UK has been experiencing a trend of net internal migration from urban to rural areas. However, in 2013, productivity in rural areas was around 17% below the level of productivity for urban areas.
The 10-point Rural Productivity Plan set out by Chancellor, George Osborne, and Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss is intended to boost the rural economy by investing in education and skills, increasing wages, improving infrastructure and connectivity, and simplifying planning laws.
This includes a measure to allow starter homes to be built on rural exception sites. Starter homes are built on brownfield land and are intended for first-time buyers under 40 in England at 20% discount. The homes cannot be re-sold at market value for five years. Rural exception sites are small sites that would not normally be used for housing, but can be used for affordable housing in perpetuity. The government suggested that allowing starter homes to be built on rural exception sites would allow local areas to allocate more sites for starter homes specifically for people who already live in the area, or have an existing family or employment connection to the area.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark said, “We’re determined to ensure anyone who works hard and aspires to own their own home has the opportunity to do so – whether they live in cities, towns or rural communities. But all too often young people find themselves exiled from the place they grew up as they are forced to move away to find a home of their own. That’s why we’re putting power directly in the hands of rural councils to give the go-ahead for new Starter Homes in their area so local young first-time buyers can continue to be a vital part of their communities.”
RIBA President Stephen Hodder said: ‘Local authorities must be empowered to be able to deliver well planned and well-connected communities on brownfield land that is fit-for-purpose for those who need them. However it is vital that, in the drive to counter the housing crisis that has gripped Britain, that local expertise, high quality design and sustainable planning are at the heart of every conversation.’
However, concern was expressed that the introduction of this measure might simply reduce the amount of affordable housing available.
Other measures in the plan include:
- Working with private sector providers to assess alternative solutions to deliver broadband further into rural areas and setting a new ambition to provide high speed broadband to businesses in all enterprise zones in rural areas.
- Improving rural transport connections by feeding the views of rural stakeholders into the second Road Investment Strategy for 2020 to 2025.
- Ensuring fairer funding for rural schools and working with schools and colleges that are underperforming to ensure, where appropriate, they are entering into collaborative arrangements and formal partnerships to raise standards.
- Encouraging rural local authorities and providers to make innovative early expressions of interest to deliver 30 hours of free childcare to working parents.
- Considering proposals for increased devolution of powers and greater freedoms to maximise economic growth in areas across the country that put in place strong and accountable local governance.
- Providing improved transport connections for businesses and passengers in local areas with fifteen new routes on the Regional Air Connectivity funding shortlist.
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