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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
done...in 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
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:-
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.
* 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
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.
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
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.
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!
Employment objectives for rural areas are usually articulated in
Sustaining rural populations
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
conserve environmental jewels
contain urban spread
protect land rather than landscape
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.
5. Local InitiativesUNCIL (Upper Nithsdale Community Initiative)
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'
'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'.
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
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
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.