There is still an opportunity to contribute to the forthcoming East Lothian Local Development Plan and help define what is meant by ‘appropriate rural development’. Arguably, the planning system tends to be urban-centric – perhaps not surprising given that is where more people live and more development happens. But the challenges of development in the countryside tend not to be given sufficient attention or debate, so there should be more of a debate about the future shape of our East Lothian countryside.
This debate shouldn’t simply be about what society wants the countryside to look like – whether there are wind turbines on the horizon, for example. The debate should also be about the future of our rural communities. Do we want more jobs in our villages? More commuters? More businesses? More facilities? The answers to these questions should inform the forthcoming East Lothian Local Development Plan.
“Farmers, landowners and rural business owners need to come forward and ensure that they contribute to the East Lothian Local Development Plan while there is still an opportunity. The ‘Rural Voice’ needs to be heard,” says Francis Ogilvy, chartered surveyor and owner of Chalmers & Co, land agents and architects.
‘Farmers and landowners are not engaging enough in the planning system so do not have a leg to stand on when it goes against them.’ This was one conclusion that could be drawn from the Chalmers & Co Question Time debate held earlier in the summer as 90% of those attending (farmers, landowners and their advisors) confessed to not having ever read the Main Issues Report or East Lothian Local Plan.
“Is it time to face the music about the state of our national and local economy and adapt planning policies to stimulate growth?” asks Francis Ogilvy. “They have arguably sought to do this at Westminster but evidence in downtown Haddington is less apparent. What would you like to see happen here or would the very thought of short term gain conjure a fear of long term regret such that the two are not to be reconciled?”
“What is meant by ‘Appropriate Rural Development’? This is one of the key questions to ask in relation to proposals for change in the countryside. All of us who work in the countryside should have a better understanding of what is meant by ‘appropriate development’.
For example: are rural business parks ‘appropriate development’ if they provide rural jobs and sustain local communities, even if they are built on green fields? Is mineral extraction ‘appropriate development’ if it means that construction materials for nearby towns and cities can be sourced locally?
“Phrases like 100% Renewable Scotland’, whatever this means, are increasingly used in conference speeches and the countryside should take a worthwhile lead in bringing this vision to life. There is much that the rural economy can offer and more that we can do to influence it, so let’s have that debate!
“‘BANANA’ reactions (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or Anyone) are a natural consequence of extreme development proposals; perhaps they should be turned down. However, if we are to create a diverse rural economy that can contribute and compete with urban counterparts, we need to encourage investment in the countryside. If we want a ‘Mars Bar countryside’ – where people can ‘work, rest and play’ – we need to engage in the debate to make it happen.”
Anyone who would like to feed into the debate to promote a greater understanding of what is meant by ‘appropriate rural development’ is encouraged to get in touch with Francis Ogilvy at Chalmers & Co or to visit and contribute to the blog on Chalmers & Co’s website www.chalmers-surveyors.com (01620 824000 or firstname.lastname@example.org). This will culminate in a workshop with interested parties and a proposal which will be submitted to the local planning officials who have indicated a willingness to incorporate such a Rural Voice in formulation of future planning policy.
For reference – the 10 point summary of the Chalmers & Co Question Time was:
1. The farming sector needs to do things differently: innovate with ’sustainable intensification’ and ’smart specialisation’.
2. Planners too need greater innovation for rural areas and should encourage small businesses.
3. Rural communities need cohesion and leadership to be viable centres and for community engagement to work.
4. Delivery of renewable energy from the countryside is welcomed and to be encouraged, but only when considered as part of a mix.
5. Urban businesses, including manufacturing should be incentivized and educate to relocate to the countryside.
6. Access to superfast broadband is critical for the viability of the countryside and should be a priority of government and community groups.
7. The Main Issues Report is an opportunity to request that the Local Development Plan does more for rural enterprise and encourage organic growth round existing settlements.
8. The agriculture of tomorrow will be knowledge-based, making more food from less land. There therefore needs to be a sensible discussion on genetic modification.
9. We should celebrate what our countryside offers – embrace what is good and positively sell its benefits to investors and visitors for mutual benefit.
10. The Local Development Plan must recognise and provide for non-land use issues contained in the government’s Land Use Strategy: renewable energy production, food production, supply chains and innovation.