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Sustainable rural communities

The localism agenda lends itself well to planning for rural communities, but planning for an area with many settlements can be challenging given the desire to fully consider local character whilst making sure that the plans for individual neighbourhoods work together to create a sustainable district.

Here we share some of the advice given to planners working in rural areas over the past three years of CABE’s LDF workshops.

Decide the appropriate spatial scale for each decision

  • Each place will be unique so do detailed planning on a settlement by settlement basis, but use typologies to develop criteria for settlement boundaries and flexible area-wide approaches.
  • Don’t expect viability from simply increasing critical mass through housing. Think about the quality, convenience and function of services.
  • Consider the reality of mobile services to serve rural communities. Don’t think about issues statically.
  • Explain any trade-offs for living in a small rural area, for example, not being able to have the public transport network residents want.
  • There shouldn’t be one statement on local distinctiveness or a single policy if the places are diverse. Consider using policies in the core strategy for individual places and character areas. If all the areas are different, say so and how, and then plan for them separately.
  • You might need to redefine what a market town is locally or make people realise the limitations of what can be done with them.

Understand the context

  • Rural areas are connected to something. Explaining the sub-regional context and spatial relationships is vital to understanding how the places work. Mapping will help.
  • Does the area have rural hinterlands or rural heartlands? Is it towns surrounded by rural areas, or a rural area with towns in it?
  • Landscape character analysis should be done alongside built environment character analysis. Use the two together to tell the story of the place and develop the strategy – they should be used to justify settlement pattern projections. Build in sensitivity and capacity analysis.
  • Many people want to live in rural areas. Why? Tell the story of the places and what makes them special. Put the quality in and don’t undersell the place.

Provide connections

  • Think about the differences between self-containment and self-sufficiency.
  • Entrepreneurialism will be increasingly important in the changing economy, particularly in rural areas.
  • For rural areas transport within the district may likely be more about community-based transport than trains and buses.
  • Be realistic- how much transport is really needed between the district’s places, and how much of it is actually to larger settlements beyond the district?
  • High speed broadband is a critical issue, and how access may affect working and commuting patterns, and economic buoyancy.

Don’t neglect green infrastructure

  • Start with an understanding of the ecosystems in the area.
  • Rural areas have a lot of green space, but it is often private or agricultural land.
  • Rather than seeing them as a constraint, use assets such as the landscape and green spaces as a tool to solve other issues such as mitigating climate change, food production, recreation etc.