Amendment 258B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:15, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 268 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to which I have added my name. I have to say at the outset that I have no idea whether the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would agree with my comments, but I hope that he would.

Your Lordships have listened to, and taken part in, many debates over the years on the challenges faced by rural communities. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath have chaired committees looking in depth at these challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, called for a national rural strategy, and I support this. Similarly, my noble friend Lord Foster pressed the case for there to be proper recognition of the challenges rural communities face and for the Government to have a discreet policy which recognises this. There is an industrial strategy, so why not a rural strategy?

The Government’s response was that all the issues faced by rural communities were covered under many other policy areas, so there was no need for a rural strategy. Assurances were given that all government policies would be rural-proofed. This, therefore, was a refusal to have a rural strategy—and there is very little evidence that all government policies are rural-proofed.

The economic viability of rural areas is very fragile. Small business parks tend to be in large towns. Of course, there are excellent examples of business parks in very rural areas—the Eaglewood business park in Ilminster, Somerset, is one such and I am sure there are many others around the country—but it is a struggle. Economic development is vital to providing both facilities and jobs for those living in rural areas.

Young people, having finished their statutory education, may go away to university; or they may stay and, if lucky, learn a trade at the local FE college. They will look around for a job and find that the market is very limited. There may be a manufacturer in the large neighbouring town that is offering apprenticeships, but these will not be numerous. Their options for a job, let alone a progressive career, are limited. It is no wonder that, once they are able, many young people opt to leave their home towns and villages and go to the cities to seek security for their futures.

“Economic development” has somehow become a dirty phrase and not what would take place in rural areas. It is difficult enough to get sufficient housing in rural areas, but business parks and small manufacturing units face a very big struggle. Those opposing housing developments often cite the lack of jobs for the people who would live in the homes created as their reason for objecting to the developments. It has all become too difficult for some, while others are champing at the bit.

During Covid, many people were working at home and found that the different lifestyle suited them; they wanted to work in their local areas instead of having to commute to the larger towns and cities where they had previously worked. However, having looked around, they found that, unless they had a job that actually allowed them to work from home, there was little or no employment that allowed them to go out to work in their local area, despite their considerable skill set.

It really is time for Governments of all persuasions to stop ignoring economic development in rural areas. Having this proposed new clause on permission in principle for rural economic development in the Bill would make a tremendous difference in extending the permission in principle planning route to developments relating to economic development. It would validate the desperate need for rural economic development and, hopefully, lead to more rural jobs.

I know that the Minister understands the issues of rural economic development, as she was the very successful leader of Wiltshire County Council for many years. I hope that she is able, on behalf of the Government, to give a positive response to Amendment 268.