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9. Rural Communities

Core Strategy Strategic Objective

To enable rural communities to becoming stronger and more sustainable through supporting new development of an appropriate scale that makes them become more vibrant and viable

SCS Strategic Aim

There is a vibrant, viable and sustainable rural community

Why is this a strategic objective?

9.1 Approximately 90% of the District falls outside the urban areas, and this large rural area contains a number of villages and hamlets which are an important part of the District's character. Like many rural areas across England, the communities in the rural parts of Warwick District have been adapting to the recent economic and social changes that have been taking place.

9.2 Rising house prices have resulted in younger residents being unable to remain in the communities and as a result the local population has generally become older and less mixed. Changes in population and economic forces has led to many villages losing their local shops and services, which has resulted in the fragmentation of communities as residents have to travel to nearby towns and villages to meet their daily needs. The further decline in rural employment, particularly within agriculture, has also resulted in more out-commuting for work and many villages become dormitory settlements. The increasing need to travel outside of the villages for work and services, and the frequency of public transport services in the rural area, place ever more reliance on the private car. All of these changes have in many areas eroded the sense of a rural community and this is an important issue for the Core Strategy to address.

Evidence:

Participation

9.3 In response to the public consultation on the "Issues Paper", 70% of respondents thought that supporting our rural communities was of high importance. The most important issues facing rural areas were considered to be the loss of shops and services, the lack of affordable housing, and public transport. When asked to consider what type of employment is needed to keep rural areas economically viable, farm diversification, agriculture and small business 'start-ups' were the most popular responses.

Research

9.4 The following documents provide further evidence of the need to sustain rural communities and the strategies currently in place:

  • West Midlands Rural Economy Study, 2007 addresses the key issues with regard to the character and performance of the rural economy. Access to services, transport, jobs and affordable housing are all seen as issues which need addressing through a number of measures, including:
    • encouraging affordable housing schemes, especially for the low paid;

    • provide employment land for new local jobs and scope for more home-working;

    • develop tourism and provide business support; and,

    • improve transport especially community transport schemes.

  • AWM Rural Renaissance Framework and Action Plan aims to influence regional policy and action, based on regional and local strategies. It sets out priorities for rural delivery which will address economic problems in the rural areas of the West Midlands; and,
  • Survey of Rural Services (2009) assesses the existing facilities in the rural area. This highlights the low level of services and facilities currently within the villages and hamlets.

National and Regional Planning Policies

9.5 Relevant national planning policy is within Planning Policy Statement7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas (2004) which requires local planning authorities to facilitate and promote sustainable communities in the rural area. Policies should allow limited development in or next to villages in order to meet local business and community needs and to maintain the vitality of these communities. This should include supporting a wide range of economic activity, facilitating and planning for new services, providing housing to meet local needs, facilitating sustainable development that supports traditional land-based activities (including agriculture), and making the most of new tourism, leisure and recreational opportunities that require a countryside location. PPS7 in part is currently being reviewed as part of the draft PPS4: Planning for Prosperous Economies, which was published in May 2009. This requires local planning authorities to, amongst other things, set out criteria to be applied to planning applications for farm diversification schemes, seek to remedy deficiencies in local shopping provision, supporting equine enterprises, and set out policies to address proposals for replacement buildings. Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing also recognises the need to provide housing in villages, particularly where it supports informal social support networks and assists people to live near their work.

9.6 Regional planning policy requires the local planning authority to manage the rate and nature of development in the rural area to that required to meet local needs, whilst ensuring that local character is protected. It also requires policies for housing and other development to take into account the likely implications for the provision of services and facilities for the communities concerned, including the extent to which new development may support the provision of local services. Policies also require support for the expansion of existing rural businesses and consider the creation of new enterprises. This includes farm diversification, tourism and ancillary businesses, subject to these being appropriate to the scale and nature of the location.

What are the Options?

9.7 National and regional planning policies set a clear direction for the approach the Core Strategy should take in terms of sustaining rural communities. Strategic policies must support rural social and economic development, such as housing, shops, services, community facilities and employment, of an appropriate scale that can contribute to meeting local needs.

9.8 It is clearly not possible or appropriate within the Core Strategy to identify, or plan for, what the local need should be in terms of new development within each of the villages. The 'top-down' approach of allocating development, such as new housing or employment, to specific sites around the villages is not considered a realistic option as it would be contrary to national and regional policy and would be unlikely to achieve the objective of strengthening rural communities.

9.9 The only realistic option available therefore is for the Core Strategy to set a framework for enabling different types of development to come forward in the villages once identified locally, i.e. the 'bottom-up' approach through a Parish Plan or Village Appraisal prepared jointly by the Parish and District Council. Where appropriate, such plans or appraisals could be adopted by the Council as area action plans or supplementary planning documents. The District Council is already working with some villages in preparing Parish Plans.

Housing

9.10 An option for the Core Strategy would be to set some limitations in terms of the scale and nature of development that might be allowed in the rural area to meet local needs, particularly in terms of new housing. It is acknowledged that there are issues around the long term sustainability of village communities and services that additional housing, both market and affordable housing, could help to address. The scale of housing that may be needed to ensure viable village services in the long term is difficult to predict and may well vary between settlements, but it is likely to be significant. This scale of growth would be likely to conflict with wider transport and sustainability objectives in relation to reducing the need to travel, although the loss of village services could in themselves contribute to increased need to travel and less sustainable patterns of development. It is very difficult therefore for the Core Strategy to impose any arbitrary limitation on the scale or nature of housing that might be appropriate in the rural area.

9.11 It is recognised, however, that some of the District's smaller villages and hamlets have already lost their services and cannot therefore offer a range of community facilities or access to jobs or key services by means other than the private car. It would be an option for the Core Strategy not to allow any further housing in those settlements in order to reduce out-commuting by residents and the need to travel. This would restrict housing in rural areas to those settlements with a range of facilities, such as a shop/general stores, primary/junior school, post office, community building, and an hourly bus/train service to an urban area. This approach would, however, deny those smaller villages and hamlets the opportunity to come forward with proposals for supporting the development of new facilities, linked with housing.

Shops and Services

9.12 In terms of supporting the development and retention of rural services, there are considered to be no realistic options as national policy already requires the Core Strategy to include policies to help develop new services, and protect existing rural services such as shops and pubs, from change of use to other uses. The inclusion of a policy protecting rural services would give the Council an element of control to protect local services from closure, unless it was demonstrated the use was no longer appropriate or viable.

Employment

9.13 In terms of supporting the creation of rural jobs, there are also considered to be no realistic options as national and regional policy already require the Core Strategy to support economic development in rural areas to meet local needs and maintain viable communities. This should include policies to support appropriate agriculture and farm diversification schemes, expansion of existing businesses, creation of new rural enterprises, and the re-use of rural buildings for economic purposes, such as tourism.

Feedback - Options for Rural Communities
View Comments (126) Do you agree that the Council has identified all reasonable options for Rural Communities?
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What is our Preferred Option?

9.14 In relation to housing, the Council's Preferred Option is for the Core Strategy to support both market and affordable housing to meet local needs in all of its villages/hamlets irrespective of their size and level of community facilities and services at present. The scale of housing supported would not be limited by the Core Strategy but must be related to local needs and demonstrate it can strengthen the viability of village services in order to reduce the need to travel. This approach would enable a better mix of homes in all of the District's villages, which in turn should demonstrate its ability to improve the viability of those existing community facilities and services that do survive, as well as open up opportunities for new facilities and services to be delivered in more imaginative and effective ways. The Core Strategy would therefore have a policy framework that gives it the flexibility to allow such opportunities to come forward to meet local needs and help communities, rather than to allow villages, particularly those without a range of community facilities, to decline.

9.15 In terms of other uses, the Council's Preferred Option would be to reflect national policy in supporting the development and retention of rural shops and services, and to support rural employment.

Feedback - Preferred Option for Rural Communities
View Comments (109) Do you support or object to the preferred option for Rural Communities, particularly in respect of rural housing?
Please explain your response when answering this question.
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