Planning reform would sway 70% of rural business owners’ votes, poll finds

Seven in 10 rural business owners say planning reform policies will sway how they vote, a poll suggests.

The survey of 350 business owners by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) found that 70% either agree or strongly agree that each party’s position on the issue will influence their vote, while only 8% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

The research suggested rural businesses are losing thousands of pounds of investments thanks to projects being held up in the planning process.

Nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents said they had been forced to abandon plans to invest because of planning problems.

Commenting on the findings, Victoria Vyvyan, CLA president, said planning reform is “key to winning rural seats”.

With the countryside’s vote on “a knife-edge”, she urged parties to include the issues in their upcoming manifestos.

“So many enterprises in rural areas could grow, create jobs, help provide housing, but are being stifled by an archaic planning regime that seems almost designed to restrict our ambition,” she said.

The survey found that 85% agreed or strongly agreed that the system has hampered the growth of their own business, with just 4% strongly disagreeing or disagreeing.

Meanwhile, 94% of respondents said there was a lack of knowledge on rural issues and agricultural matters within the system and two thirds said they believe the Green Belt restricts farm diversification projects.

Peter Hogg, a farmer and rural business owner in Morpeth, Northumberland, said he planned to convert a farmhouse into a bed and breakfast to help diversify his income.

However, the application stalled for more than a year because of a dispute over adding a small sunroom, which he said lost them a full season and more than £30,000 in revenue.

“The planning system is crippling businesses like mine,” he said. “If businesses like mine are to succeed, Government must cut the red tape that’s stunting our growth and livelihoods.”

“Beyond the financial impact, the mental toll is profound. Many perceived problems could be sorted in 20 minutes over a cup of tea,” he added.

The CLA, which represents nearly 27,000 farmers, landowners and rural businesses across England and Wales, has made a series of policy recommendations to parties ahead of the General Election on July 4.

This includes making it easier to convert agricultural buildings into homes in national parks and national landscapes, providing £25 million to fund an extra planning officer in each local authority, and making provisions for specific training for planning officers to better understand the rural economy.

“Farmers and landowners are dynamic and innovative and want to help grow the rural economy, but time and again their efforts have been hampered and frustrated,” Ms Vyvyan said.

“Nobody wants to concrete over the countryside, least of all us, but instead of treating rural communities as museums, political parties need to support small-scale developments – adding small numbers of homes to a large number of villages, helping to provide lifelong housing for local people while also boosting the economy.”

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