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Editorials Fifteen Criteria for Rejuvenating the Rural Economy

From Defining Rural Sustainability published by The Land Is Ours 1. Any new rural development project

should have a management plan which demonstrates how the site will contribute towards the occupiers' livelihoods, and how the objectives cited in items 2 to 14 below will be achieved. 2. The project should provide affordable

access to land and/or housing. 3. The project should provide public

access to the countryside. 4. The project should demonstrate how

it will be integrated into the local economy and community. 5. The project should demonstrate that

no activities pursued on the site shall cause undue nuisance. 6. The project should have a strategy for

the minimisation of motor vehicle use. 7. The development and any buildings

associated with it should be appropriately sited in relation to local landscape, natural resources and settlement patterns. 8. New buildings and dwellings should

not be visually intrusive and should be constructed from materials with low environmental impact, preferably from locally-sourced materials. 9. The project should be reversible,

insofar as new buildings can be easily dismantled and the land easily restored to its former condition. 10. The project should plan to minimise the

creation of waste and to reuse and recycle as much as possible on site. 11. The project should have a strategy for

energy conservation and the reduction, over time, of dependence on nonrenewable energy sources. 12. The project should aim over time for

the autonomous provision of water, energy and sewage disposal and should make no demands upon the existing infrastructure. 13. Agricultural, forestry and similar land-

based activities should be carried out according to sustainable principles. 14. The project should have strategies and

programmes for the ecological management of the site, including: (a) improvement of soil structure; (b) conservation or enhancement of semi-natural habitat; (c) efficient use and reuse of water; (d) planting of trees and hedges. 15. The project should show that

affordability and sustainability are secured, for example, by the involvement of a housing association, co-operative, trust or other social body.


An increase in people working sustainably on the land will help to boost other areas of the rural economy.

between the one and the other. Planning Policy Guidance 7: The Countryside boldly proclaims that "sustainable development is the cornerstone of both the Government's rural policies and its planning policies". But there is no guidance in PPG7 or in any other government document as to how sustainable developments in the countryside can be identified, encouraged, monitored and secured.

In order to fil l this policy vacuum, the Rural Planning Group of the land reform pressure group The Land Is Ours has recently published a report entitled Defining Rural Sustainability. The first part of this report outlines a set of 15 model criteria for assessing developments associated with sustainable land-based rural projects. These criteria cover social issues such as affordability and public access, the impact upon the local environment and wider environmental concerns such as energy use and transport (see the accompanying box for the full criteria).

The second part of the report provides three model local-plan policies which are designed to facilitate development on sustainably managed holdings without any radical departure from existing planning guidance. These policies are backed up by a number of model conditions and legal agreements which could be used to ensure that a sustainable development stays sustainable and which close up loopholes which might be exploited by speculative builders masquerading as sustainable developers.

Judging by the reaction to this document so far, the Rural Planning Group (now renamed Chapter Seven) is convinced that i t is only a matter of time before these criteria and policies, or something like them, become incorporated into a planning system which nearly everyone agrees is sorely in need of a new vision.

When they are fully incorporated, the repercussions wil l be considerable. Building land wil l become more accessible and cheaper for those wishing to work, full- or part-time, in a land-based rural economy. This wil l help to underwrite sustainable

farm and forestry holdings which might otherwise be marginal. People aiming to farm and build sustainably would therefore be able to pay somewhat over the odds for agricultural land and conventional farmers selling land would have an interest in seeking out buyers in the sustainable/lowimpact sector. Planners too would have an interest in seeing this sector expand since they would have considerably greater control over i t than they do at present over conventional farms.

The more people there are working upon the land, the more shops, pubs, workshops, offices, schools, clinics, churches and other facilities there will need to be to service them. Any substantial increase in the numbers of sustainably managed, labour-intensive agricultural units would have a knock-on effect on the rural economy. The more people there are working upon the land, the more shops, pubs, workshops, offices, schools, clinics, churches and other facilities there wil l need to be to service them; and i f a burgeoning sustainable sector of the agricultural economy establishes successful mechanisms for restraining the use of the private car, then public transport wil l become more viable. Within this context, the counter-urban middle-classes seeking a place in the country wil l no longer be so dependent upon commuting to the city for their income: there wil l be a place for them, too, in a thriving and balanced rural community.

Defining Rural Sustainability: 15 Criteria for Sustainable Developments in the Countryside together with Three Model Policies for Local Plans can be obtained by sending a cheque made out to "Chapter Seven", 20 St Michael's Road, Yeovil, Somerset, price £5 or £3 to low-waged people, including p&p. It is also available on The Land Is Ours website: www. Low-Impact Development, by Simon Fairlie, published by Jon Carpenter, is also available from Chapter Seven, price £10.

The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 4, July 1999