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An Introduction to Rural Planning

It is easy enough to recognise the countryside when you are there, but if we want to be able to understand the nature of the countryside; its social, economic and environmental problems; and to develop policies and programmes we need to:

know what we mean by rural and the countryside

be able to assemble and analyse information about rural areas

understand the role of planning, its strengths and weaknesses, in the future of the countryside

The countryside has never been static. We only need to look at history to see that Britain was once a heavily forested landscape with small pockets of human habitation, living a subsistence economy. We are familiar, too, with the image of an open farmed landscape where 90% of the population lived on or from the land. Then industrialisation and urbanisation transformed society, though sometimes I think that we are tempted to believe that this has not radically altered the countryside, that change is what happens in the Matto Grosso or South East Asia.

But change is happening, fast, in the British and European Countryside, with lessons that may be relevant even if you find yourself working on the other side of the world.

The Issue is the influence of, or need for, 'planning' in this process of change

Probably the most important change in the countryside over the last 100 years or so has been the development of philosophies of the countryside, of which the Environment and Conservation have significantly entered public consciousness.

Conservation and biodiversity have become legitimate objectives in the countryside, that we must meet urgently in order to sustain the human environment.

There is a 'fortunate' coincidence between the loss of traditional employment in the countryside, a decline in urban industrialisation, a need for clean greenfield spaces for 'new' industries and massive improvements in personal mobility. These all conspire to focus much attention on rural areas as the location of future development.
Much effort has been expended by academics and practitioners in defining the characteristics of future employment and employment patterns, and much money has been spent in providing new opportunities, facilities and services, all against the background of an impoverished and unstable countryside.

Resources are required to provide for a managed transformation of rural areas into an equal economic partner for the future.

The Issues are how much economic development can be accommodated in the countryside without damage to the environment and whether such development also meets the need to alleviate rural deprivation and disadvantage.

Who does manage the countryside? And how? The Scottish parliament is busy reforming land ownership. The European Union is busy reforming the Common Agricultural Policy and developing rural awareness. Agencies go about their business either constrained by a narrow remit or required to accommodate other social, economic and environmental objectives in which they have no traditional expertise. Private interests pursue their own agenda.
If the planner is to play a role s/he must not only know the land but must also understand individual and corporate objectives and be able to work with and influence the managers of the countryside resource.

There are many 'actors' whose combined activities interact to determine the future of the countryside.

The Issue is the contribution of planning within this framework.

2. The Nature of the Countryside

Countryside could, half a generation ago, have been seen as land ownership, agriculture, forestry and their downstream consequences. But change is afoot.

We are now in transition to the countryside as a consumer product : tourism, recreation, conservation, industrial, commercial and technological location. We need to define the components of the Scottish countryside. The pattern of the countryside is a patchwork of many economic (and uneconomic) activities and social groups in harmony ( or disharmony) with a natural environment.

Land ownership , in Scotland, can have peculiar influences on the way in which land is managed, the way in which it is populated and even the way in which it can be planned. Gilg refers to a zonation of the countryside in England that gives some guidance on the way in which the land is used and the issues that arise.

For Scotland we must look again at these patterns and include the influences that the land ownership characteristics of Scotland bring to bear.

Land Ownership Patterns and Planning in Scotland

1. Paternal. Much land in Scotland is held by major landowners defining rural values according to their own vision, forcing their land ownership to fit that pattern.
- land choices to a large extent outwith planning authority

2. Idealistic. Land held with a purpose. Land owners who see their land as a social/ cultural/ environmental responsibility, eg Inverewe, Affric, public ownerships.
- land choices still outwith planning authority

3. Highland/Island. Smaller landowners and farmers. Immigrant populations, tourist groups and external agencies in conflict with an agricultural system under extreme strain.
- Planning policy economically driven and less important than individual, often locally biased, planning decisions

4. Aggressively farmed landscapes. The cropping, dairying and stock-rearing areas of, for example, Perthshire and Ayrshire where urban related activities are accommodated but required to have their proper place.
- Policy usually the key determinant of planning decisions

5. Battle Zones. Not only the urban fringe itself but other locations where the demand for (un-) urban activities coincides with a marginal, almost subsistence, economy based on rural functions.
- Urban dominated planning choices

6. Comfort Zones. A fringe area around any, perhaps most, of the other areas where the external pressures are less, the profit opportunities less imperative or the protective devices (eg Country/ Regional Parks) more cushioning.
- Agencies (SNH etc.) take a lead role in deciding planning policy and decisions

3. Objectives in the Countryside

Objectives in the countryside encompass many different things to many different people.
'The countryside should be environmentally, economically and, most particularly, socially sustainable'.

Royal Society of Arts, 1994

1. Sustainability

Part of National Policy. Incorporated within remit of SNH.(but not directly into planning legislation)

'..SNH shall have regard to the desirability of securing that anything relation to the natural heritage of Scotland is undertaken in a manner which is sustainable'.

The Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act, 1991

There are many different terms in use


sustainable development

sustainable growth

It is questionable whether they all have the same meaning.

Implications for Planning:

Raemaeker and Boyack(1999) suggest that 3 tests might be applied:-

is there a need for the development

is it in the right location

how can damage be mitigated

and that 4 principles of sustainability must take priority:-

precautionary principle

protection of critical natural capital

the polluter pays

use of best practicable environmental option

They also recommend that 'sustainability' is incorporated into the wording of planning legislation.

Implications for the Countryside:

Sustainability is not just a conservation issue but requires consideration of land management and development.

2. Biodiversity
'Biodiversity includes:

* all kinds of animals, plants and microbes

* the air, land- and water-scapes in which they live

* their interactions with each other and with their surroundings

* the differences between them, even at the level of their DNA'

Objectives have been defined (by SNH and others) in relation to the:
gene pool

species eg species action plans for species under threat

habitats both in terms of conservation and the health of the countryside

introduction of new species eg beavers

Implications for Planning:
It is now a requirement on Local Authorities ( with others) to prepare a Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

3. Productivity
Many authorities, agencies & others have a firm view and a legitimate interest in the potential of the countryside to produce a return on investment- public or private.


Even though environmental benefits are now anticipated in association with agricultural production, payments to farmers are still set in relation to stock or production. Ceilings (limits) are used to constrain growth.


Targets for afforestation still exist( although it is now recognised that a sustainable forest industry ie. meeting all Britain's needs within Britain is not attainable). However they have never been met. Forest growth is still an objective. But is dictated by the fiscal mechanisms, which have not been predictable in their effect.

Minerals Extraction

Productivity objectives for minerals are principally demand led. The need for minerals for housing, transport and energy set targets for production that need to be met from a geographically limited stock of resources.

Shooting and Hunting

Although a major land use (15% of Scotland's land area) generating £100m per annum (S.L.A. figure) there is, -perhaps not surprisingly- no national policy. Policy ( but little action) does exist for the control of excess deer numbers.

4. Landscape and Amenity

National and local policy utilises designations as the principal mechanism of recognising 'quality' in the countryside -These are not always popular!

5. Employment

Employment objectives for rural areas are usually articulated in two ways:

Sustaining rural populations

Tackling unemployment

6. Planning
Gilg suggests three goals for rural planning:

ensure rational and sustainable development of resources

balance development aims of different activities and groups

reconcile production and consumption

(which may be interpreted in different ways and different policy approaches for England and for Scotland


protect farmland

conserve environmental jewels

contain urban spread


protect land rather than landscape

exploit resources

manage change )


Rural communications is not only about transport. Telephonic communications at competitive prices also needs to be considered. (The influence of 'The Archers' in spreading rural understanding has already been mentioned, and emphasises the importance of television and radio not only as educative media but as an influence for social cohesion and quality of life)

Rural telecommunications has perhaps three key components:

Easier communication from centre to periphery.
the ability to 'access information, products and services from the centre,but in a new way...Farmers remote from veterinary services are now browsing the web for immediate answers to tricky animal husbandry problems. Islanders dependent formerly on limited catalogues of goods are now ordering from an almost unlimited range'.

Establishment of rural communications centres.
As well as establishing communications centres away from the high cost of urban locations (Rothesay, for example, has one), there are other aspects to centralised communications in rural areas. The EU Telematics Applications Programme sought to 'improve the efficiency of services, stimulate job creation, establish new economic activities and improve living conditions in areas with inadequate socio-economic and cultural infrastructure'. 'Information about shared concerns and solutions can be broadcast'

Global accessibility.
'the Internet makes it possible to supply their information, products and services to the centre and beyond, and historical prejudices start to be overcome. The food and drink industry in Ross & Cromarty ...are selling everything from chutney to black pudding across the world.....Goat cheese makers throughout Europe could have a shared website. Indeed the Alliance Pastorale in France is doing just that'.

5. Local InitiativesUNCIL (Upper Nithsdale Community Initiative)
UNCIL was launched as a Limited Company in 1994 with the task of assisting the economic and social regeneration of Upper Nithsdale. Although the initiative was instigated by Dumfries and Galloway Council and Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise, its structure, remit and programme have been the responsibility of a locally drawn steering committee. In consequence it has the advantage of a close integration with and responsibility to the local community but the disadvantage of a limited role in the direct delivery of wider regional objectives. This has resulted in funding acquired principally for the delivery of other specific activities and programmes of its key sponsor organisations (eg. Heritage Trails) and the creation of self financing initiatives (eg Internet Cafes and the UNCIL website). In practise this has produced a financial turnover of 300,000pa which compares well with the originally anticipated external (Council, LEC and Objective 5b) support of 1.2m over 5 years.

However this success masks problems of financial management (the need for a close and detailed financial examination of all potential activities and the need for money up front) and of future uncertainties. UNCIL has a variety of community interests (the geographic area defined encompasses several issues from forestry to agricultural decline and decaying mining communities) that do not necessarily correspond to specific objectives of the Council/LEC. The LEC, for example, supports projects such as LUCE 2000, Small Towns Initiative and Wigtown Booktown. These may be seen as worthwhile and supportive of their major objectives but are vulnerable where they are not on the direct line of targeting.

There are always likely to be different issues emphasised by local and 'wider' perspectives. Different approaches (Partnership, contracting the delivery of objectives, independent community bodies or National Strategy) bring different advantages and different problems.

6. Indicators of Rural Disadvantage

Alternative Indicators?

If traditional indicators do not reveal the true nature of rural deprivation do we need to derive alternatives? There is certainly some evidence from interview surveys that the perception of deprivation in rural areas is not only different but may not be seen as important compared to the advantages of rural living (Scottish Geographic Magazine, 1996).

In defining possible alternatives it is important to distinguish between three possible approaches:

Area based - possibly one of the key dilemmas of rural analysis has been the political insistence on area based initiatives.

Issue based - it could be held that this is the approach adopted by current methodologies

Target group based - much analysis seems to suggest that it is specific groups within the rural community that experience disadvantage

The Scottish Office have commissioned further research to examine the opportunities to derive specific rural indicators. The initial analysis, reported by Shucksmith et al in Scottish Geographic Magazine, 1996, suggests that a target group priority is the most valid.

The study looked at income and employment, access to housing and lifestyle and proposed that disadvantage lay with specific groups:

the elderly - who may have difficulties of access to services, low income and social isolation

the young - who may find education and training unavailable, limited job opportunities and no 'cultural' contacts

low income - transport and servicing costs and availability may impose disproportionate burdens on limited budgets

no car families - we have already mentioned the heavy car dependence of rural communities. The absence of a car may be particularly important where, for example, there are only 'x' ferries each day, the last bus returns too early or the fare exceeds the benefit of working.

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