Rural Productivity Plan proposed for Green Belt UK

Anna Mangini's pictures of Herts countryside at Ayot Greenway

Anna Mangini's pictures of Herts countryside at Ayot Greenway - Credit: Archant

Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced intentions for a new 10 point Rural Productivity Plan. This is a first for the UK and will directly affect parts of Hertfordshire.

On August 20 the first ever Rural Productivity Plan was announced jointly by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, and Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss. The 10 point plan lays out the government’s intention to green-light the construction of more starter homes for residents of rural regions. This announcement comes alongside research showing that thousands are now moving into the countryside.

The premise here is to boost rural economy and promises to invest in education and skills, increase wages, improve connectivity and infrastructure and make planning laws for rural business and communities simpler.

This will be the first time that Rural Exception Sites will be approved for starter home building projects. With this comes a proposed improvement on other services - rural transport connections, school funding, child care and out-of-town broadband. In short, the plan aims to make the countryside “an even more attractive place for people to live, work, start a business and bring up a family”.

“We want to create a One Nation economy that taps into the potential of all parts of our country,” said George Osbourne last week. “That means setting the right conditions for rural communities and businesses to thrive.”

The plan suggests that the UK is losing out on “billions” by not utilising our rural communities more effectively. Elizabeth Tress said: “We’re connecting the countryside to make it just as simple to run a business from Cornwall as it is in Camden.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark’s comments last week focused strongly on the youth angle of the plan, saying that “often young people find themselves exiled from the place they grew up as they are forced to move away to find a home of their own...we’re putting power directly in the hands of rural local young first-time buyers can continue to be a vital part of their communities.”

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How does this affect Hertfordshire’s villages and towns? The Rural Services Network has warned of the wider implications of such a notion. Notably, it’s all in the location. The targeting of Exception Sites in particular rings alarm bells with the RSN due to the current usage of these sites as a place for social housing.“The need for affordable rented homes in rural communities is inescapable and must be a key part of implementing a productivity plan for rural communities,” says RSN’s chief executive Graham Biggs. “Starter homes at 80 percent of market value...are highly likely to remain too expensive for most young people in rural areas, potentially defeating the stated purpose of the plan.”

Hertfordshire is a county popular with commuters and those looking for a slice of countryside living, so is bound to be directly affected. Landowners are being encouraged to release land at a modest price so that homes can be built; both the local residents and owners of the land will need to have assurance that these homes can be retained for people with a local connection and at a price they can afford. Without such security, residents potentially won’t support the plan and the rural population are likely not to cooperate and support its implementation.

Whilst St Albans will be affected less by this proposal, given the city’s mostly built-up arrangement, areas such as Hitchin and Harpenden will surely be fodder for the Rural Productivity Plan. Hitchin and Harpenden MP, Peter Lilley, has been approached for comment.