Careers: The rural challenge

Planning is as important to the countryside as it is in fast-moving towns and cities.

Many people forget that nine-tenths of England is rural and the proportion is higher still in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Countryside planning balances protection and enhancement of the environment with ensuring that the needs of villages and small towns for jobs, homes and services are met. "The social and economic forces in rural Britain have become more complex, as has the challenge of climate change," says Trevor Cherrett, head of planning at the government's Commission for Rural Communities.

Rural planners face some unique challenges. Large-scale wind farms and other forms of renewable energy tend to be sited in countryside locations. The pressure from city dwellers for second homes puts pressure on the supply of housing for local people.

Although the majority of development happens in towns and cities, rural areas also need change to cope with issues such as farm diversification, the decline of village shops and public transport and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Planners work to safeguard valued landscapes and habitats, but blanket preservation is not an option.

"The planning system needs to become more engaged with rural issues," says Kay Davies, a partner at consultancy Fisher German. "The attitude that a dust sheet can be drawn over rural towns and villages is unsustainable. It can only lead to more tension and development pressure in these areas with no resolution of community and economic needs."

Even the UK's national parks are "living landscapes" where people live and work. National park planners have to strike the right balance between conserving these areas' scenic, wildlife and cultural assets, promoting public understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities and fostering communities' social and economic well-being.

National parks also aim to provide models for sustainability. The Brecon Beacons' emerging local plan is exploring ways of meeting government aims to make all new development carbon neutral by 2016. "Clearly this will require a style of building that will challenge concepts of design traditionally accepted in the park," says strategy and policy officer Rachel Willis.

As well as offering a variety of experience, working in rural areas also brings quality of life. "I live within ten minutes of my work. There is no air pollution, no light pollution and you are always surrounded by astounding views," says Willis.

PROFILE

RACHEL BLAND

Affordable housing officer, South Hams District Council BA and diploma in Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield

- What attracted you to planning?

I wanted to do something related to people and places but that applied to the real world.

- What are your main duties?

Everything from writing policies to working with communities to bring homes forward.

- What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety, the challenge and the sense of achievement when projects get off the ground.

- What has been your career highlight?

Planning is not just about big projects. Small successes are also really satisfying.


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