Government rescue plan for rural communities

RURAL watchdogs have welcomed a raft of measures aimed at resuscitating dying communities in Suffolk.

Simon Tomlinson

RURAL watchdogs have welcomed a raft of measures aimed at resuscitating dying communities in Suffolk.

A Liberal Democrat MP warned that hundreds of picture-postcard villages could become “Disney-esque” dead zones as people were being priced out of the areas they had grown up in.

Matthew Taylor also called for stricter regulation of second homes, which are often left empty for much of the year and were responsible for the decline in local trade and could lead to the closure of schools.

In response to Mr Taylor's report, the government has promised to revolutionise planning policy to create more affordable housing in the countryside.

A �1million incentive will also be made available over the next two years to encourage local authorities to develop sustainable new neighbourhoods in small and medium-sized towns.

Most Read

The response was given a warm reception by a rural charity in Suffolk, but it stressed time was of the essence.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, said: “We hope the government will implement very quickly the broad thrust of Matthew Taylor's report because in Suffolk there is an absolute need for affordable housing.

“The planning system is stifling the communities by making a presumption against developments in rural areas.”

Mr Gibson also wants to see the implementation of a full council tax on second homes and penalties for leaving them empty.

John Yates, chairman of the East of England Rural Forum, was hopeful that more agricultural sites in Suffolk and Essex would become available for building and that the emphasis on developing pockets of eco-towns would now be reduced.

But the Countryside Alliance said the government must go further to bring about a “fundamental change of attitude” to make it socially unacceptable to object to rural developments that allow people to live where they grew up.

The government has accepted most of Mr Taylor's 48 recommendations which will see planning restrictions in villages and small rural towns in England eased to allow the development of more affordable homes and to create new jobs.

Local councils and developers will be encouraged to identify “exception'' sites in small villages where affordable homes can be built for local families.

Planning policy will be “refreshed'' to ensure that the “distinct needs'' of rural businesses are recognised when it comes to developing suitable new sites.

Councils in market towns will be encouraged to develop sustainable new neighbourhoods rather than building “soulless'' housing estates on the outskirts of town, with a �1million competition to promote best practice.

But it stopped short of forcing second-home buyers to apply for planning permission to enable tighter controls on holiday houses.

Responding to the move, Mr Taylor, MP for Truro and St Austell, said: “I sympathise with the government's concerns about my recommendation on holiday homes, but this is an important day for the countryside.

“No change is not an option - the alternative to sustaining and rejuvenating rural communities is to fossilise them, forcing out families and working people.”

The latest statistics from the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) show that the average home costs up to ten times the average salary in some rural areas.

Dr Stuart Burgess, chairman of the CRC, said: “Over the next few months we will be taking forward the government's response by working with regional and local bodies to help rural communities to grow and change in ways that will help sustain livelihoods.”