Five key messages from Labour on rural planning

Earlier this month, shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell gave a keynote speech to the annual British Institute of Agricultural Consultants rural planning conference. Here is what we learned.

Rural broadband: Labour plans to support rural firms
Rural broadband: Labour plans to support rural firms

1 Labour wants to buck the trend of population shift from countryside to city.

"For too many years we have seen a one way direction of travel," Maskell said, arguing that physical and digital infrastructure needs to be put in place "to enable rural Britain to thrive".

2 Rural planning needs to prioritise bringing back business to the countryside, the Opposition says.

"There's half a million businesses based in rural Britain," said Maskell. "It's important that, as we plan our footprint moving forward, we make sure it's not just about homes and communities and farms but wider business. Putting the economy and business at the forefront of some of the questions around planning and rural infrastructure is so important". She argued that helping rural business development was essential to keeping younger people in the countryside.

3 Maskell believes that post-Brexit uncertainty may prompt many farmers to seek to diversify their businesses.

"The farming community are looking at how do we move this agenda forward around diversification," she said. They might seek to do this through investing in renewable energy generation, or by investing in digital or transport infrastructure, she said.

4 Vital rural economic development is being blocked by over-mighty neighbourhoods, Maskell argues

Maskell said that current planning "emphasis is really about neighbourhood", which she acknowledged was important. "But there is a wider economic footprint that we have got to look at," she said. "The farming community want to be able to make use of opportunities, but often it's the neighbouring community that are saying no to them". She argued that part of the reason for the "continual flow" into the cities was due to there being less challenge to development there than there is out in rural areas. "We have to challenge back," she said. "Communities need a voice, and have to come on that journey, but the balance of power needs to be redressed".

5 Moves to city-regional government would be frozen by a Labour administration, partly because of their urban focus

Maskell said that English devolution was good, but that she disagreed with the urban focus of the city-regional administration. "We need to have a constitutional convention to look at how we see the future of the whole of the UK," she said. "We've got different parts of the country under different jurisdictions with different areas of responsibility and levels of decision-making and the whole thing is like a patchwork".

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