Geography Essay

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Rural areas are characterized by insurmountable conflicts, which the planning system and local planning processes are powerless to resolve. Discuss.
Question must be answered within the context of the United Kingdom and its Town and Country planning system.
Recommended authors on subject: Paul Cloke, Neil Brenner, Terry Marsden….


Discuss this Statement: “Rural Areas Are Characterised by Insurmountable Conflicts, Which the Planning System and Local Planning Processes Are Powerless to Resolve.”


Introduction. 2

Evidence of Conflicts in Rural Areas and the Role Played by the UK Planning System.. 2

Planning and Enforcement Problems: Manifestations of Weaknesses in the National Planning System and Local Planning Processes?. 7

Conclusion. 9

References. 11


The rural areas have been a major focus of the UK planning system. Historically, discourse on various issues affecting these areas have been presented in the context of town and country planning. In recent years, many changes in local planning processes have been introduced, and with them a shift in the nature and magnitude of problems being experienced in rural areas. Some of the most common problems include inter-class conflict, intra-class conflict, conflict between local planning processes and national planning processes, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and lack of proper differentiation between rural and urban areas. The aim of this paper is to discuss these problems. The paper is based on the hypothesis that rural areas in the UK are characterised by insurmountable conflicts, which the planning system and local planning processes are powerless to resolve. The objective of the discussion presented in this paper is to assess the gravity of the conflicts and extent to which local planning processes can be relied on to resolve them.

Evidence of Conflicts in Rural Areas and the Role Played by the UK Planning System

One of the main sources of conflict in rural areas as far as local planning in the UK is concerned is the huge external costs arising from existing policies (Lowe & Ward, 2007). These external costs have created a scenario where it may be necessary for the UK government to consider rethinking the existing land use planning policies as stipulated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 (Lowe & Ward, 2007). For example, there is too much emphasis on urban containment, which has greatly contributed to bureaucratic expansionism at the expense of selfless public service.


Urban containment is one of the policies that have triggered conflicts in town and country planning (Punter, 2002). Some planners at the national level argue that owning a second home encourages outward expansion of urban areas; they also consider it a manifestation of conspicuous consumption (Gallent, 2013). In contrast, local communities and local-level planners encourage this practice based on the argument that it provides an additional source of income for the developers (Bradley, 2000). According to Cloke & Goodwin (1992), these conflicts continue to exist because countryside is not being conceptualized in a coherent manner. For instance, there is a dramatic reduction in land supply because of existing planning controls (Pennington, 1997). Moreover, restrictive land use planning systems in rural areas are largely to blame for the traffic congestion and over-development that is being experienced in towns and cities (Monk & Whitehead, 1999).

Another cause of planning-related conflict is the Green Belt policy, which has come under intense criticism, based on the argument that it is impractical for the expansion of cities to be restricted simply to protect the Green Belt (Counsell & Haughton, 2003). Critics argue that restricting the expansion of towns because of the Green Belt forces developers to pursue expansion outside the Green Belt, thereby increasing demand for a more wide-reaching road network and by extension longer distance travel (Counsell & Haughton, 2003).

Similarly, rural communities, especially those who live in low-income areas, have been embroiled in conflict arising from the introduction of land use policies that side-line them (Pennington, 2002). They argue that the recent overhaul of the town and country planning system has failed to incorporate the equity criteria in the process of addressing long-standing problems. Indeed, the policies allow the wealthy farm lobby to hold immense powers in terms of housing opportunities, mostly at the expense of poor rural folk and inner city population without car ownership (Pennington, 2002). This conflict is being compounded by the widespread perception that existing policies have not succeeded in promoting countryside protection. Yet many people in rural areas also feel that the countryside is losing its traditional rural feel because of the introduction of policies that promote arable monoculture.

At the heart of this conflict is the underlying difficulty in differentiating between rural and urban areas (Hoggart, 1990). In the context of town and country planning, an overarching assumption is that different structural circumstances exist that necessitate the use of a distinct approach to land use planning in rural areas (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2002). Yet differences sometimes exist not just between rural and urban areas but also within different rural contexts. Cloke & Thrift (1987) provide evidence for this situation by indicating that there is a rapid increase in cases of intra-class conflict within rural areas that policymakers and planners are simply not prepared to handle. They are not prepared to address this conflict because they fail to understand that structure-agency relationships within rural areas are shroud in numerous complexities (Hoggart, 1990). In light of this policy handicap, Cloke & Thrift (1987) suggest that a multifaceted approach that embraces both integration and differentiation should be adopted. Integration should be embraced for the purpose of theoretical sampling, whereby both urban and rural areas should be assumed to have been constituted by the same population (Cloke & Thrift, 1987). On the other hand, differentiation should be put into consideration in order to account for differences between rural and urban areas in terms of structural circumstances (Cloke & Thrift, 1987).

On a different note, interest groups are an integral part of the conflict in rural land use planning in the UK. They play a critical role in protecting the interests of the tenant farming population. Some of the issues that dominate the debate being advanced by the interest groups include production subsidies, access to gains from asset appreciation, and imposition of restrictions within the rural land development market (Marsden, Banks & Bristow, 2002). This debate is being presented on the demand side of the conflict. On the supply side, the planning bureaucracy is the dominant participant, and its emphasis is on various economic concerns, most of which need the support of private developers and political leaders. As civil servants continue to promote their self-interests, the rest of the population ends up suffering. The problem is normally compounded whenever government agencies join the fray by seeking to promote their economic interests as well. This situations make the problems relating to land use planning in rural areas within the UK to appear insurmountable.

The bureaucracy has greatly contributed to the conflict by inflating budgets and lacking the profit motive. The government bureaucracy is a public utility that depends on budgetary grants rather than performance. This means that the need to account for profits and losses does not arise. On the contrary, emphasis is on things such as increasing staffing levels, enhancing employees’ status, and promoting job security. Moreover, as monopoly suppliers, government bureaucrats enjoy organizational advantage over the private sector as well as the electorate (Brenner, 2004). Thus, they lack the incentive to address problems relating to collective action as far as policy making is concerned. Instead, the bureaucrats are encouraged to take self-serving discretionary measures such as inflating cost estimates with a view to secure increased budgetary allocations.

One way in which the conflict manifests itself is in the ownership of the second home (Gallent & Tewdwr-Jones, 2001). In some areas in the UK, efforts by individuals in rural areas to own a second home attracts numerous needless tensions and problems. Examples of these areas include Cornwall (MacKinnon, 2001), North Wales (Marsden, Lloyd-Jones & Williams, 2015), and the Lake District (Hall & Stern, 2008). Attempts to address these problems have largely been unsuccessful, thereby creating the impression of powerlessness on the part of the responsible town and country planning agencies.

The deficiencies of the UK planning system have even attracted the attention of the government, which has started putting in place measures aimed at investigating and remedying the situation (Tewdwr-Jones & Allmendinger, 2006). In the meantime, the debate on second homes continues to put into perspective the deepening conflicts in Britain’s rural economies and the inability by the civil servants in charge of the country’s planning system to address underlying sources of conflict such as access to housing in rural areas.

Social exclusion is an important factor that leads to problems in the area of access to housing in rural areas (Sturzaker, 2009). This is especially evident in areas where a growing section of the population owns a second home. Such populations are easily being excluded for political reasons, with the behaviour being abetted by retrogressive policies. When existing policies lead to discrepancies in the country’s housing market, they create opportunities for certain areas to be socially excluded for political reasons. A good example is North Wales, where second-home ownership trend caused concern among policymakers and politicians (Cloke & Griffiths, 2008). This phenomenon triggered a heated debate in which the dominant issues were language protection and cultural change. Evidently, politicians and policymakers were keen to entrench tenure divisions and market dynamics that would establish dichotomies between poor and rich as well as newcomers and locals (Cloke & Goodwin, 1992). Incidentally, such efforts have inevitably led to conflict between different members of rural communities in the UK.

Planning and Enforcement Problems: Manifestations of Weaknesses in the National Planning System and Local Planning Processes?

The planning and enforcement problems being experienced today indicate that more fundamental challenges exist particularly in relation to interactions among planners at the national, regional, and local levels. Instead of cooperating and integrating operations and programs, they get sucked into perennial inter-jurisdictional conflicts. The outcome of these conflicts is inability to enforce statutory controls in the right manner. Another outcome is that where controls are being enforced, this is done in a manner that precludes development in other jurisdictions both in urban and rural areas (Marsden et al., 2005).

Similarly, lack of commitment by bureaucrats in enforcing regulations casts a dark shadow on the prospects of equality for rural folk. Consequently, a bias against development has been seen to exist within areas such as the London Green Belt as and Buckinghamshire. On the other hand, growing statutory controls have many negative effects. For example, developers are increasingly being discouraged from applying for planning permission in designated environmental sites. The regulatory regime is also biased against smaller firms, which face constraints on the number of planning permissions that they can submit as well as the probability of getting approval.

In many rural areas, the growth of settlements goes beyond the predefined territorial boundaries, thereby causing conflicts between neighbouring authorities (Hamiduddin & Gallent, 2012). This problem can be avoided through strategic planning. However, since local planning processes are powerless to address this situation, the conflicts seem insurmountable. Nevertheless, the ongoing overhaul of the UK planning system has rekindled hope of reduced tensions and conflicts arising from cross-boundary projects in rural areas (Martin & Marsden, 1999). The idea of fixed administrative boundaries is not compatible with the current dynamism of growth in the country’s housing markets. If this issue is addressed in the ongoing overhaul, the conflict will be minimized.

Conflicts are also being fuelled by top-down planning by the UK government (Tewdwr-Jones & William, 2001). This kind of centrist planning tends to be ill-equipped in addressing local needs and priorities, hence the emergence of conflict at the local level and the inability by local planning processes to resolve them. Indeed, such processes tend to discourage new developers from entering the housing market particularly in rural areas. Hamiduddin & Gallent (2012) points out that one reason why the government has traditionally adopted a top-down approach is the risk of myopia that is normally posed whenever more local approach to policy planning are adopted. This means that such an approach may cripple government operations because of its failure to contribute significantly to broader socio-economic goals. This is a valid argument because the pursuit of local interests may easily lead to a neglect of national objectives.

From this discussion, it is evident that the planning system has been evolving, with one of the latest developments being the overhaul of regional planning mechanisms. This move was a major setback because it exacerbated the already deteriorating relations among authorities. Going by the fragility of these relationships in the past, one can argue that it will take some time before a cooperative working environment at the inter-regional level to be nurtured. A major contributing factor for this difficulty is the top-down pressure that the housing sector continues to face from government. On the other hand, failure to subsidize hew housing in preference for policies that promote localism is likely to boost local involvement in the planning. The only major drawback of this approach is that it may exert pressure on stakeholders in the housing sector at the local level to deliver housing developments that contribute to economic development at the national level.


In essence, the task of creating real choices for local communities has become too difficult for local planning processes to handle. This is because they have been powerless rendered powerless by the strong bureaucratic hand of the government, which favours a top-down approach that geared towards the pursuit of national and regional economic interests. Incidentally, these interests tend to be in conflict with the choices that are favourable to local communities. The most viable solution to this quagmire is to rely on policies that have been developed at the national level only when local authorities are unable to resolve existing challenges. In this arrangement, all plan-making systems above local authorities and below the national level should be avoided because they may easily end up complicating the conflict. Unless there is demonstrable harm, the reasonable thing for local developers to do would be to let National Planning Policy Framework be relied on as a tool for countering parochial local interests while at the same time favouring development at both local and national levels.


Based on this discussion, there is evidence that rural areas in the United Kingdom are characterised by numerous conflicts, which the planning system and local planning processes seem to be incapable of resolving. Some of the main sources of conflict include rising external costs attributed to existing policies, urban containment programs that preclude development, lack of cooperation among different authorities, most profoundly between local and national levels, and the impracticality of some of the policies being enforced in the context of town and country planning.

Moreover, the paper has highlighted some of the weaknesses of both the national planning system and local planning processes. The weaknesses are embodied in the various planning and enforcement problems that are being experienced in rural areas in the UK. For example, it seems impractical for the expansion of cities to be restricted simply to protect the Green Belt. This is because it forces developers to pursue expansion outside the Green Belt, which by extension increases demand for a more wide-reaching road network and by extension longer distance travel. However, it may be inaccurate to consider these conflicts insurmountable. Land use planners in the UK can succeed in resolving the conflicts by simply cooperating on aspects of both planning controls and housing development.


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