Communities, landowners and businesses based in the East Lothian countryside are being encouraged to contribute their views to the new Local Development Plan. To encourage debate and contributions, a ‘Rural Voice’ workshop was jointly organised last week by East Lothian Council and Chalmers & Co, the Haddington based surveyors and architects. The Council and Chalmers & Co have a shared interest in ‘shaping the countryside’ in East Lothian to ensure that its communities thrive as a place to work and play.
The forum brought together a wide-ranging rural voice of around 40 landowners, farmers, countryside businesses, community groups and government organisations at Winton House. Facilitated by Nick Wright and Richard Heggie of Urban Animation, they explored what that thriving countryside might look like in 10 to 15 years time, and how changes to planning rules could help that vision become real.
East Lothian already makes much of its beaches and golf. Why not encourage more adventurous recreation too, such as Glentress-style mountain biking in the hillier areas away from the coast? No-one wants to see sensitive areas ruined by development, but there was a widespread view that the countryside and villages could absorb more development – so helping create jobs, bring in younger people, and help sustain village populations and facilities.
There was a call to make planning in East Lothian’s countryside more proactively development-friendly and flexible. The planning system should encourage landowners, farmers and businesses to invest in job-creating development and new homes – provided that developments are small-scale and well designed. They should benefit local communities (for example by providing a mix of houses, small and large) and certainly shouldn’t swamp villages with suburban development.
Better infrastructure - broadband, mobile phone signals and transport - was seen as critical to making village communities more attractive places to live and set up new businesses. Super fast broadband was repeatedly promoted by the audience as a way of encouraging the development of competitive locally-based businesses.
A more community-based approach to renewable energy – wind turbines and biomass heating systems – was also suggested. The goal of making East Lothian self-sufficient in energy and minerals was proposed.
So, what would a thriving countryside look like in 10-15 years’ time with more pro-development planning and better infrastructure? More profitable and diverse farms, more people working in thriving small businesses in villages with real potential, more home working, less need to commute, more families and younger adults in villages, and a greater range of homes and jobs.
"I was delighted to see such a wide range of people turn out to discuss the future of East Lothian's countryside,” says Ian Glen, Policy & Projects Manager at East Lothian Council. “Working in partnership like this has helped us to reach more people than we would otherwise have done. The conversations help the Council understand how best we might refine the next generation of rural planning policy to support business and economic development, while protecting the county's landscapes and biodiversity."
“What emerged from the afternoon was an answer to the mandate of providing a Rural Voice for East Lothian. We agreed on the desire to see business and jobs at the forefront of planning policy in the county,” says Francis Ogilvy from Chalmers & Co.
“A partnership approach will be critical if this vision is to be fulfilled since none of this will be possible if we are not all heading in the same direction. There is a need for a 'can-do' attitude amongst all the players rather than reference to a rule book, but this needs to be matched by key infrastructure investment in broadband and, ideally, in the rail network as well.
“More still needs to be done to aid an understanding of what is meant by ‘appropriate development’, but the combination of the online survey - which has produced a good response - and the workshop are a significant step forward in promoting greater engagement between the rural community and planning officials. East Lothian can, we believe, become known as a place to do business whilst eating mars bars - a place where we can truly 'work, rest and play'!”
Urban Animation will be producing a detailed report on the event and the online survey findings over the next couple of weeks, and then discussing with the Council how the next generation of planning policy can support a thriving rural economy and community. If any readers still want to add their views on what is ‘appropriate rural development’, please fill in the online questionnaire which can be found through Chalmers & Co’s blog at http://news.chalmers-surveyors.com/