Thanet's New Local Plan - Options consultation

Issue 5 - How can we support the rural economy?

Introduction

Why do we need to address this issue?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) dedicates a specific section to the rural economy and says that Local Plan policies should support economic growth in rural areas in order to create jobs by taking a positive approach to sustainable new development. It says local plans should:

  • support the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business and enterprise in rural areas, both through conversion of existing buildings and well designed new buildings;
  • promote the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses;
  • support sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments that benefit businesses in rural areas, communities and visitors, and which respect the character of the countryside; and
  • promote the retention and development of local services and community facilities in villages, such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship.

In Thanet given the size of the rural area and its proximity to the urban area and existing employment land, as well as its relative affluence it is not considered that rural economic growth is one of Thanet's priorities. However, it is acknowledged that economic growth in the whole District is desirable particularly in terms of rural tourism and delivering services to the local population.

Rural tourism is dealt with under the issue of how we support the visitor economy.

What evidence we have on this issue

Evidence relating to this issue is contained in the Economic and Employment Assessment 2012, Employment Land Review 2010, and in the Employment Topic Paper. We have also carried out an audit of village services and businesses.

Key Facts and Information

The following key facts are important when considering how to support the rural economy:

  • 9% of firms are located outside of the urban area in Thanet.
  • Sectors which have an above average proportion of rural firms include wholesale, retail and construction.
  • The green sector in particular the secondary green sector[1] has an above average proportion of firms within rural locations (20%).
  • Village services contribute to the rural economy.
  • The majority of Thanet's agricultural land is classified as best and most versatile.
  • Nationally agriculture accounts for 1% of the economy (GVA) and 1% of employment but it produces 60% of the food we eat and manages 70% of the total land area.
  • In terms of the wider economy agriculture supplies the food processing industry which is a much greater contributor to the economy and provides business to ancillary industries.

Current policies from the Local Plan 2006 support the rural economy including the following issues:

  • Support of village services through the use of existing residential properties (Policy R3)
  • Positive support to retaining a reasonable level of shopping provision in Thanet's rural settlements (Policy R4)
  • Support for farm diversification subject to criteria including that the proposed use is complimentary to the farm holding, impact upon landscape setting and nature conservation, best and most versatile land, traffic generation and utilisation of available farm buildings (Policy CC10)

Considering how we can support the Rural Economy

Along with the key facts and information above, the following are factors to take into account and help you consider how to support the rural economy.

The Thanet Economic and Employment Assessment 2012 suggests that given the split of businesses in Thanet the focus for economic growth should be within the urban area. However, a focus on transport and communications infrastructure is recommended as it would ensure that businesses within rural areas have access to high speed broadband that could unlock growth opportunities and further enable home working. The transport network must also be robust in order to easily access larger centres and support networking opportunities such as those provided at the Kent Innovation Centre.

One of the major factors to consider is the proximity of the rural settlements to Thanet's urban area and the reliance of the rural population on the towns for employment and services. A considerable number of rural residents both work and use services in the towns as well as in Canterbury and Dover. The level of car ownership in the villages also tends to be higher than in the towns. This could suggest that Thanet's villages perform more of a suburban function than a rural one; however, the majority of residents are reliant upon a car. It is also important to consider the character and attractiveness of the villages and the rural area.

Conversion of existing buildings and the development of new buildings

The reuse of rural buildings for economic development is particularly desirable as it supports the rural economy without land take and brings redundant buildings back in to use which can enhance the appearance of the rural area. Uses that may be appropriate for conversions include rural tourism, retail, offices or industrial and storage providing they are compatible with the location. This could also be beneficial in terms of reducing reliance on the car, providing that they are located within or in close proximity to the villages.

National Planning Policy also supports sustainable new build development that is well designed. The concern with supporting this is that it may lead to sporadic economic development in the countryside which could bring about cumulatively significant changes in the distinctive open countryside that is characteristic of Thanet. In rural areas outside of the villages such development is unlikely to be sustainable because of the impact upon landscape, the character of the countryside and greater reliance upon the car for accessibility.

However there may be circumstances where development requires a rural location such as equestrian uses.

Agricultural Diversification

National Planning Policy states that we should support farm diversification that would strengthen and protect the productive base of farm units and allow the continued viability of farms. This is important as farm diversification would support the needs of the food production industry and contribute towards the aim of food security for the UK. However, farm diversification projects can also bring with them problems of traffic, landscape and the irreversible loss of agricultural land. An option is to develop a policy which supports farm diversification subject to criteria.

Village Services

Village services include local shops, meeting places, sports venues, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship.

The proximity of Thanet's villages to the town centres and high levels of car ownership in the villages may make their shops and services vulnerable given market forces. However these services are essential for the elderly and people without access to a car and it is not sustainable for residents to have to travel several miles by car for everyday items and services.

Currently Acol, Cliffsend, Manston, Monkton, St Nicholas and Sarre lack accessible services to meet the day to day needs of their residents. Large scale development in these settlements would not be appropriate. Small scale top up and basket shopping would be beneficial to the rural economy and is more compatible with the form and character of the villages.

As well as supporting the provision of new facilities it is also important that existing village services are protected. The Thanet Local Plan 2006 contains a policy protecting existing, and supporting new, community facilities (Policy CF1). It states that planning permission for the change of use of an existing community facility to a non-community facility will only be granted where it can be demonstrated that there is no longer a sufficient need for the facility or that adequate alternative accommodation is provided. Village shops and services are considered under the umbrella of community facilities and currently covered by this policy. It is considered important to maintain the principle of this protection through the same or a similar policy.

Needs of the food production industry

National Planning Policy states that we should identify barriers faced by the food production industry. These could include issues such as flexibility for farmers to diversify farming business in order to make the business viable. This often includes converting redundant agricultural buildings to other uses such as shops, leisure uses and offices.

Supporting the protection of best and most versatile agricultural land in the light of food security requirements is also important for the food production industry, and therefore it may be appropriate for the new Local Plan to contain such a policy.

The need to support the sustainable intensification of farms is also important so that they can remain competitive in the current market dominated by large scale supermarkets. New technologies that assist farming, such as renewable energy technologies and on farm water storage, need to be supported. Approval for new and replacement farm buildings where the old ones are unsuitable is also important. Farm retail units of suitable scale are a further way to increase income for farmers and support the continuing function of the farm business. An option is therefore to include policy supporting agricultural related development.

 

1. Secondary green sector includes activities which are partly 'green' such as electricity, manufacture of energy equipment, quantity surveyor and sustainable transport [back]