Proposals in the Queen's speech to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law 'must also benefit the rural economy', the Country Land and Business Association said today.
CLA President Henry Robinson, who welcomed the proposed changes to planning laws, said: “It is vital that the changes proposed must benefit the economic competitiveness of the rural economy too. It is pointless changing planning laws for infrastructure that does not then provide economic competitiveness for rural-based businesses.“All of our countryside deserves to benefit from these changes with improved economic competitiveness if we are to deliver jobs and homes for rural communities, and enhanced landscape and biodiversity.”Provision of rural housing is a vital component of the economy and Mr Robinson added: “The CLA is pleased with National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) released on 6 March because it should compel Local Authorities to recognise and address the housing needs of rural communities, from first-time buyers and growing families through to appropriate housing for the ageing population. Crucially, the NPPG also requires Local Authorities to allocate residential sites accordingly, something that many authorities have failed to do in the past.”However, in terms of the delivery of garden cities the CLA remain cautious about the proposals outlined in the Queen’s speech. It believes these will have to be large scale in order to be viable, and therefore take years to deliver – possibly leading to the unnecessary use of compulsory purchase powers rather than looking to open market solutions. The association also said proposals to open up access to shale sites as part of the government's Infrastructure Bill failed to address the concerns of landowners.Proposals on access for shale gas operators have been in the public domain since late May in the form of a DECC consultation.However, neither today’s announcement nor the consultation has addressed the continuing fears of landowners in the UK.The consultation proposes changes for underground drilling access allowing operators to drill under land without the prior permission of the landholder.The CLA said the consultation failed to address concerns over long-term liability, nor gave serious consideration to alternative options.“This is focussed solely on the needs of the shale gas industry and fails to provide a balanced approach to the provision of access, nor does it address the legitimate concerns of property owners whose rights are being impinged," said CLA President Henry Robinson.“The shale gas industry already has a means of gaining access where they cannot do so by mutual agreement. It therefore seems extraordinary that Government is considering law changes while the shale gas industry is yet to prove the current system is not fit for purpose. Other options for provision of access should be given more serious consideration.”Robinson also said landowners must be protected from any liability in the longer term and not left out of pocket for the benefit of the shale gas industry.“One of the key concerns for landowners is that they will be left liable for costs resulting from processes taking place on or under their land by operators whose interests are short term.“It is appalling these fundamental issues are seemingly not being addressed. The shale gas industry already has a poor public perception and these proposals are unlikely to improve that situation.“Rather than the Government embarking on a confrontational approach, shale gas operators should start to work with all landowners rather than seeking Government support for ways around their obligations.”