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Concerns raised about rural planning reforms

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Concerns have been raised about planning reforms in a strategy that aims to boost rural economies.

The government has proposed changing planning rules so that starter homes can be built on rural exception sites – small plots of land that would not normally be used for housing.

The change is part of the government’s plan to reach its target of building 200,000 starter homes to help first-time buyers under the age of 40 to buy a home 20% below the market price.

LGC understands there are concerns the policy could result in fewer affordable homes being built in rural areas as land that would only have been used for affordable homes could have starter homes built on it instead.

The government is also challenging a High Court judgment that ruled its policy of exempting developers of small sites from paying contributions towards building affordable homes as “unlawful”.

If the appeal is successful developers will not be required to build affordable homes on sites with fewer than 10 dwellings in urban areas and five dwellings in rural areas.

Steve Atkinson, director of the District Councils’ Network, said there was a “concern” about how an extension of the rural exception sites policy would sit alongside current rules.

Mr Atkinson, who is also Hinckley & Bosworth BC’s chief executive, told LGC: “There should be a choice in what local authorities and communities do rather than it be imposed on them.

“Rural communities have frequently wanted to promote rural affordable housing and if the details are right then this may well be a welcome thing but at the moment we don’t have the details to know how the system would work.”

Chancellor George Osborne and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss unveiled the Rural Productivity Plan (RPP) yesterday.

The plan builds on the productivity plan announced in July.

Included in the RPP, was a commitment to bring minor development within its planning performance regime.

LGC revealed last month that 40 councils would be at risk of having planning powers taken away from them for failing to take decisions on applications quiclkly enough.

The government will also publish a ‘call for evidence’ this autumn on reforming permitted development rights – which allow certain building works and changes of use to be carried out on properties without having to make a planning application – in rural areas.

The original productivity plan outlined proposals to remove the need for planning permission for “upwards extensions” limited to the height of the adjacent building – however, it was considered that policy would mostly be relevant to London.

A “dispute resolution mechanism” to deal with disagreements over section 106 contributions to developments will be introduced, the RPP said.

Meanwhile, the government is going to invite places to take part in “reshaping, re-commissioning and ongoing commissioning” of post-16 skills provision in the autumn.

Applications to turn places into enterprise zones are currently being accepted and the RPP said preference would be given to “smaller towns, districts and rural areas” in this bidding round which ends on 18 September.

Local authorities are also going to be given access to a £129m pot to reinvest in providing superfast broadband.

Mr Atkinson said representatives from the DCN, along with other organisations, would be meeting with the DCLG next week to discuss the rural productivity plan in more detail.

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