Haskins savages rural policy blight

English rural policy is blighted by a plethora of initiatives, complex delivery and confusion for customers, according to a scathing report published this week.

Lord Haskins' review of rural policy delivery, carried out for DEFRA, claims that English countryside policy involves too many players, complex co-ordination of delivery and a lack of clear information for customers.

DEFRA comes under fire in the report, with Haskins saying that its policy role is "not widely understood".

Policy formulation and delivery need to be separated, Haskins argues, with DEFRA taking charge of the former and regional and local bodies taking more control over the latter.

Haskins adds that the Countryside Agency should be replaced by an integrated agency to lead "an integrated approach to sustainable land management", with a remit embracing biodiversity, historical and natural landscapes, natural resources, access and recreation. This would mean bringing together the work of English Nature, the Countryside Agency and DEFRA's rural development service.

The proposals would mean a major overhaul of rural policy governance less than a decade after the last big change, which saw the Countryside Agency created. They would also mean the loss of hundreds of jobs. Haskins claims that his recommendations would save the exchequer £29 million a year, although they would cost £107 million to implement.

But environment secretary Margaret Beckett rejected the review's conclusion that there will be no role for the Countryside Agency. A much smaller organisation would have a continuing role providing independent policy advice, she added.

Tom Oliver, head of rural policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, commented: "Strong leadership from an organisation that has the confidence and resources to challenge government constructively is essential."

RTPI countryside and natural environment panel convenor Adrian Parker said government agencies have failed to involve planners as proper stakeholders in rural policy delivery.

Rural Delivery Review can be viewed via www.planning.haynet.com.

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