Policy E5: Rural Economy

GBC Policy

Policy E5: Rural Economy

In order to support economic growth in rural areas, which will create jobs and prosperity, a positive approach to sustainable new development will be taken in Guildford borough. To promote a strong rural economy: 

  • the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business and enterprise in rural areas will be supported, through conversion of existing buildings and provision of well - designed new buildings of appropriate scale, provided they are in accordance with green belt policy and other policies in the plan 
  • the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses will be supported, and 
  • the retention and development of local services and community facilities in our inset and identified villages, such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship, which respect the character of the countryside, will be supported. 

The Council will work with our partners at Surrey County Council and the Enterprise M3 LEP to support and improve the provision of internet services where needed in rural areas and enhance digital inclusion in such areas. This will help to retain and promote services and types of business, including traditional agriculture, and help to create more sustainable villages. 

To support the rural economy, national policy is more flexible, allowing small-scale development for main town centre uses (see glossary) without applying the sequential approach. The sequential approach will not be applied to applications for small scale rural offices or other small scale rural development. 

GGG Response

Summary

This policy should only apply to small-scale development in rural areas which means development of less than 100 sq m (gross) which is in keeping with and the permanence and amenity of the green belt.

Use of rural areas for town centre uses without applying the sequential approach is against the principles of localism which mean that local people should be consulted – and heeded (not ignored!). Villages need protecting both in terms of design and in terms of scale.

Previous commitments to improved high-speed broadband and mobile phone coverage have now been diluted, despite general support.  This is disregarding the responses from the previous consultation.

Detailed response:

It should be noted that the NPPF “provides a framework within which local people and their accountable councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans which reflect the needs and priorities of their communities.” (NPPF 1).

Guildford becoming a Growth Hub was NOT in the election manifesto.  This policy was mentioned only tangentially in the corporate plan.   Given Guildford’s poor transport links, noted congestion and the problems that this is perceived to cause for existing businesses, this does not seem an appropriate decision.

This radical, unsupported policy change is apparently in order to generate "growth" - although the possibility is that too much building over the areas that make Guildford Borough attractive will actually generate damage and stagnation, and cause a net decline in local affluence and growth.  This risk has been highlighted by some local business leaders in the press.

In addition to NPPF 1, the Core Planning Principles set out in NPPF 17 include, as the FIRST (and therefore most important) principle, that “planning should:

  • Be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a positive vision for the future of the area”.

Furthermore, if this were not enough, in the section on Plan-making, NPPF 155 states:

“Early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses is essential.  [It is not clear that early collaboration with prospective developers is either required or legal]. A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made”.

Local People are supposed to be represented within the NPPF, and any plan which does not meet with the consent of local people is arguably unsound. The failure to amend a plan following consultation, and to take the points made into account, is arguably in breach of NPPF and is therefore at risk of consequential challenge. A policy that is unsupported by the local community should be considered to be unsound.

It is arguable that GBC is arguing aggressively for a pro-development strategy in relation to villages and the Green Belt and mis-stating national policy as a result.

Many of the proposed “main town centre” uses would not be appropriate either to the Green Belt or villages within it  - indoor bowling, casinos, warehouses etc. would not be appropriate for most villages in Surrey.

The provision and take up of reliable and high speed broadband, and the increased impact of home working and smart working are welcomed.  Access to high speed broadband as a priority is welcomed and this is one of few aspects of the LEP’s policy that is welcomed in relation to the rural environment.

In this context, it seems entirely inappropriate that a monitoring indicator is net additional employment floorspace completed by category.  “Smart” and home-working do not involve incremental floorspace and to evaluate incremental economic growth by the size of floorspace allocated is an inappropriate measure in the Green Belt.  By definition such work uses do not require space.  It is important to recognize – as this Local Plan does not – that the main employment within the countryside is related to that countryside, whether due to agriculture, tourism (so that “unproductive” or open space land has a positive economic impact too), film, or ancillary activities related to the above, and that to reduce the countryside footprint by building sites is to reduce economic land. The only use of land that has no ongoing positive impact for the community is to use it as a building site, whereupon it is lost in terms of ongoing economic benefit to all except the future owners.

NPPF 17 requires that local authorities “always seek to secure high quality design and a good standard of amenity for all existing and future occupants of land and buildings”, and that they “take account of the different roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts around them, recognizing the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving communities within it”.  To appraise building within the Green Belt merely in terms of numbers of buildings or net additional floorspace does not meet the requirements of those principles.

The rural areas currently have a vibrant and strong economy, and building should not be regarded as a major objective. Existing agriculture, food production, tourism and film industries rely on our existing countryside, and to substitute these by building warehouses, commercial space or even processing space for ancillary agricultural processing will be to damage the environment for no economic gain.  The loss of agricultural land is to be avoided; food security is an increasingly important factor in a congested island with an increasingly population based in the temperate zone so that it can supply food without climate stress; as noted by Cambridge University we will need more food producing land, not less, over the next few decades (see study attached to previous submission, disregarded).

Villages should be protected; new building in villages should be within the existing settlement boundaries, and new settlement boundaries should only reflect the historic changes of the settlement areas; building should not extend into the open countryside of the Green Belt; and new building should focus on brownfield sites within the urban areas.

We support the proposal for high speed broadband but are disappointed that the previous reference to this specifically   “Provision and take-up of reliable and high speed broadband has been a major issue reported by rural businesses. Access to key services vital for economic growth is often poor in rural areas. Slow broadband and inadequate and slow mobile phone coverage are constraints to economic development”

has now been modified to refer only to   “provision of internet services where needed in rural areas and enhance digital inclusion in such areas”.  This must be modified to read “provision of high speed internet services and reliable mobile phone coverage to all rural areas etc”.    In the prior consultation, a matter that was warmly welcomed by most respondents has now been significantly weakened.

We agree that high speed broadband is a desirable attribute for the wider economy, and that this is particular lacking in the rural areas of Guildford. However, its introduction should lead to an increase in smart home-working, rather than the building of additional employment space.  The policy needs to include a commitment to get super fast broadband accessible by all residents in the borough as this will provide much greater support to rural industry than anything else.

In this context, a monitoring indicator of “Number of sq m of B Class floorspace permitted and completed in rural wards” is fundamentally wrong; the indicator used for monitoring should be independent of land use, or this creates a perverse incentive to build on land.  It should be related to real economic growth – for example, incremental corporation and personal tax income generated by businesses and individuals based within the borough.

Furthermore, as ever, the urban-guided planning philosophy also entirely fails to recognize the real phenomenon of rural employment. Some of this is genuine “smart” growth of the kind that the council ought to be promoting, and states that they are keen to encourage.  Faster broadband, where it exists, is a genuinely useful tool which allows remote working for the highly educated populace.  The University of Surrey generates a significant proportion of this highly skilled group. It also boasts about the highly skilled external population and the high calibre of local residents in its publicity material. The Surrey Hills AONB is proud to be classified by government as an “Elite Employment Enclave” where a high proportion of around 40% of households include a company director; such groups can often work flexibly. However, too much industrialization, commercialization and physical building in a rural environment will result in a change in the environment that attracts these flexible and affluent members of the community, and would result in these same groups moving to a more desirable and pleasant location. This would have a negative impact on the local economy.  This consideration, while noted in public meetings in relation to the Surrey Hills by the Surrey Hills AONB board, has a general application to the borough as a whole.

In addition to smart-working among an educated group, and its economic upside, there is the fact that the rural area is founded on an agricultural framework that has persisted for two thousand years and is a viable, successful and profitable series of businesses. The land on which GBC proposes to build is viable and profitable agricultural land which supports existing businesses. Some of these are simple farms, producing food which our country needs. This should not be underestimated. The University of Cambridge has noted a significant decline in the UK’s food security or ability to feed itself – a significant factor in an era of increased climate change and global insecurity.   This report, produced in conjunction with a number of other groups including CLA (Country Landowners’ Association), NFU (National Farmers’ Union), Sainsbury’s, Asda and Nestlé noted that the UK would require up to 7 million hectares more agricultural land to meet the country’s needs for food by 2030, roughly the period covered by the plan. To replace valuable and necessary agricultural land with storage depots or warehouses which will make the environment unpleasant for residents, destroy viable agricultural businesses, and that are likely to remain empty and unprofitable unless they undercut existing viable depots elsewhere, seems to benefit only those who build the depots.

While there is ostensible recognition of the importance of agriculture, this is subverted by suggesting that the provision of new and larger buildings is essential to agriculture and forestry. We would dispute this contention.

In addition to the essential business of food production, an increasing number of our farmers are engaged in high added value food processing and delivery, which is also an extremely profitable business and of growing local interest. This does not, however, necessitate large scale building.   The Surrey Hills label is helpful in this regard, as is noted in the context of the policy.  Silent Pool gin and sparkling wine, The Tillingbourne Trout Farm, the Kingfisher Watercress beds, the raising of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry in the Surrey Hills at Drydown Farm or Manor Farm; the Hog’s Back brewery, fruit grown throughout the borough and many other businesses are of enormous significance to the borough and should be encouraged. It will be harder to cultivate a label advertising premium quality organic food from the North Downs if Guildford becomes known principally as a storage or warehousing area.

Economic growth is indeed needed by the country. Some of that growth is perhaps needed in Surrey, although we already produce a disproportionate share of the national wealth and are the most densely populated rural county. Many would argue that this is not an appropriate destination for economic pump-priming and that areas which have more need of employment, (for example in the Black Country, the North West, the North East or Wales) would be better recipients of public finance to encourage economic growth. We don’t particularly want it; we don’t particularly need it; and we are trying to cope with the organic growth we have, we certainly don’t need to stimulate it further. The unelected and undemocratic M3 LEP has a stated agenda, evidenced by its minutes (subsequently expurgated), of actively influencing government policy in relation to housebuilding; and this is perhaps because house builders sit on the Land and Property Group of the M3 LEP. This constitutes an unacceptable conflict of interest.

The ability to generate wealth is not related to the size or number of warehouses built.  This is unintelligent and old thinking – wealth is not related to the size of storage space. The monitoring of sq m of B class floorspace completed in rural wards is entirely inappropriate.  

The Key Evidence summary notes that the evidence base includes the Guildford Borough Rural Economic Strategy which is yet to be published and therefore (by definition) cannot have informed this policy or the decisions which have been taken in order to arrive at it.   To determine a policy on the basis of a non-existent evidence base, which is only provided (or indeed drafted) post hoc, must be legally indefensible.

 

 


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