Core Strategy Issues & Options
16. AREA STRATEGY (D): RURAL AREAS
16.1 In this section, the term "rural areas" refers to all of the District outside the towns of Bexhill, Battle and Rye.
16.2 This covers most of the District, some 40% of the total population and broadly relates to rural Parishes. There are no villages of more than 3,000 people, which is a threshold used by Government for housing strategy purposes.
16.3 By considering villages, hamlets and countryside collectively, this section enables an overview to be taken of the issues that tend to prevail in rural areas locally, such as access to jobs and services, provision of community facilities, affordability of housing, retention of shops and schools and provision of public transport, as well as the conservation and management of the landscape that provides the context for habitation.
16.4 This approach should not detract from being fully alert to the uniqueness and sense of place of individual settlements, nor from the need to consider the specific needs and aspirations of their communities.
16.5 Similarly, it should still take due account of the role of adjacent towns, especially Battle and Rye, that act as service centres for many villages.
A strategy for rural areas?
16.6 At present, there is no specific spatial strategy focusing on the rural areas of the District.
16.7 The Local Plan provides a strategy for the distribution of development but this begins from a perspective of how to respond to development pressures. A vision for the rural areas as a whole would provide a framework for policy development.
16.8 Rother is a substantially rural district, with villages and their countryside setting, integral to its character.
16.9 The form and pattern of settlements are diverse, and have largely grown up in response to the surrounding landscape. In the High Weald, many of the villages developed along the ridges, and it is characteristic to see a silhouette of a church spire or a line of roof-tops to emerge from a well wooded skyline.
16.10 Where the High Weald gives way to lower lying coastal areas, the growth of settlements has been generally more recent, and boosted by tourism.
16.11 The extent of the designated High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is shown as Figure 1.National planning policy on AONBs is quoted in Section 8. Here the main aim is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty.
16.12 In relation to development, the emphasis should be on small-scale proposals which support the economies and social well-being of the area and its communities, provided that this is compatible with the main aim.
16.13 For rural areas generally, national policy is provided by PPS7 - 'Sustainable Development in Rural Areas'. This seeks to protect and enhance their distinctive landscape qualities, support small-scale development to meet the economic and social needs of communities, and encourage sustainable land management.
16.14 In terms of the economic needs of local communities, there has been a long term gradual reduction in employment in farming and related industries to the point that it now represents a small proportion of jobs in rural areas.
16.15 Many jobs have been lost from villages and sites redeveloped, usually for housing. Even so, the availability of former agricultural buildings has provided an important source of accommodation for many small businesses.
16.16 It is clear that the vitality of villages has also been undermined by the loss of local facilities, notably in the range of shops as well as post offices and garages.
16.17 Their social structure continues to change as rural locations are attractive to in-migrants, who are able to out-bid local people for market housing. The especially affects the availability and affordability of housing for people on lower incomes who wish to live locally.
16.18 The rural areas of the District are by no means homogenous in their economic, social or environmental characteristics though.
16.19 The northern parishes tend to have higher proportions of managerial and professional workers, as well as higher than average house prices. They also have a lower proportion of retired age population. This is no doubt related to the proximity to Tunbridge Wells.
16.20 Parishes more distant from towns tend to have more small business and self-employed.
16.21 From the 'Rother in Profile' document, there appear to be greater health issues for people living at the eastern and coastal parts of the District.
16.22 The index of multiple deprivation rankings across the District are also lower in the east, although there are other areas with lower than average rankings.
16.23 Given the characteristics and circumstances of the rural parts of Rother, as well as current trends, national and regional planning statements, and having regard to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan, the suggested specific objectives for rural areas may relate to:
(a) maintaining the existing settlement pattern
(b) maintaining and enhancing the relationship between individual settlements and their (historic) landscape setting
(c) supporting mixed communities, including by a range of housing reflecting local needs
(d) giving priority to conserving and enhancing natural beauty within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
(e) making effective use of existing community facilities which support social networks, including schools, village halls and recreation areas, improving provision where necessary
(f) retaining and where possible re-establishing shops and key services in villages
(g) retaining and encourage small-scale local job opportunities
(h) fostering tourism that is compatible with and draws on the heritage, countryside and coastal qualities of rural areas
(i) supporting farming and other land-based activities especially where these directly contribute to conserving historic landscape character
(j) where housing development opportunities exist, giving priority to securing affordable housing to meet local needs
(k) also giving priority to initiatives and facilities that improve local social-economic conditions, especially in the east of the District
(l) improving access to basic day-to-day goods and services by public transport
(m) conserving the historic landscape character and biodiversity of the countryside, including woodland, and particularly areas of tranquillity
(n) encouraging access to the countryside and appropriate leisure activities
(o) strictly controlling development in the countryside to protect it for its intrinsic value
Future development options
16.24 In order to promote more sustainable patterns of development, Government policy in PPS7 states that:
'Away from larger urban areas, planning authorities should focus most new development in or near to local service centres where employment, housing (including affordable housing), services and other facilities can be provided close together. This should help to ensure these facilities are served by public transport and provide improved opportunities for access by walking and cycling.'
'Planning authorities should set out in LDDs their policies for allowing some limited development in, or next to, rural settlements that are not designated as local service centres, in order to meet local business and community needs and to maintain the vitality of these communities. In particular, authorities should be supportive of small-scale development of this nature where it provides the most sustainable option in villages that are remote from, and have poor public transport links with, service centres.'
16.25 The current policy in the Local Plan in respect of the villages and countryside is set out in Policy DS2 (paragraphs (iv - vi) below:
16.26 The application of this strategy led to 32 villages having defined development boundaries, with 10 villages having small site allocated, mostly of between 10 and 30 dwellings.
16.27 It is noted that the existence of a range of services was not the sole criterion and several villages and sites were deemed unacceptable on other grounds, particularly environmental impact.
16.28 Looking further ahead, in line with national policies, it is not suggest that the rural areas should receive significant growth.
16.29 However, some development may be sustainable, by helping to meet local housing and employment needs.
16.30 Furthermore, there are anticipated to be continuing opportunities for development within settlements for infilling and redevelopments.
16.31 In its advice on the South East Plan, the County Council estimated that there may be sufficient opportunities for development within Battle and the villages to avoid the need for further allocations to meet the requirement of 80 dwellings a year. However, this may well be an optimistic assessment, as discussed at the beginning of this Section. (see section 12 where you may specifically comment on the capacity for further infilling/development in villages.)
16.32 Rather, it is likely that new allocations will be required in the inland villages and Battle for some 320 new dwellings over the period 2006 - 2026.Depending on the view towards further intensification in settlements, this could be up to 470 dwellings. Alternatively, it may be reduced to very little as the County Council suggest.
16.33 The mid-range figure would equate to new sites being identified for an average of only 10 dwellings in each village with a development boundary, or 20 dwellings in half of those villages.It represents noticeably less development than occurred in the villages in the 1980s and 1990s.
16.34 Alternative future development options are presented below. These could each be applied to the range of housing numbers being considered.
16.35 The option for a new or substantially expanded village is not promoted, as this would be contrary to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty settlement pattern, while the combination of economic, social and accessibility reasons make this inappropriate in the few non-AONB locations.
Option 1- Continue to focus on Service Centres
16.36 This would be consistent with the existing Local Plan development strategy for the rural areas, as well as with PPS7's emphasis.
16.37 It would make best use of existing infrastructure and services, and maximise new residents' access to them.
16.38 There are a number of villages that act as local service centres; that is, which provide most if not all services and facilities required to meet day-to-day neds, notably a general store, post office, primary school and doctor's surgery.
16.39 Other attributes, such as local job opportunities, may also be taken into account in assessing the overall sustainability of growth at particular settlements.
16.40 Further village sites would need to be found under this strategy, most likely in several of the larger villages of a similar scale in the Local Plan.
Option 2 - Development to Support Community Needs and Deficiencies
16.41 Another approach could be that, within the rural areas of the district, (including Battle and Rye), new development is brought forward on the basis of supporting local communities.
16.42 Development would be specifically targeted to helping deliver or retain valuable local services and facilities, as well as affordable housing across the District,.
16.43 Hence, there would be particular attention on settlements where there were threats to lose key services, or where a local need for enhanced facilities to make communities more sustainable, had been demonstrated.
16.44 This may include development to support a village school, help retain a general store, provide a new or improved village hall or small workshop units, etc. These would take account of needs identified through Parish Action Planning work.
16.45 This approach may foster greater community involvement in determining development pattern, and ensure that there are direct local benefits of new development.
16.46 However, it risks not helping to deliver the key need for more affordable housing in rural areas.It may inappropriately preclude suitable sites in well-served villages.
16.47 For development smaller villages, there may be tensions between accessibility, environmental and community objectives.
Option 3 - Focus development on a few larger Villages
16.48 This option looks at a limited number of larger villages that provide a broader range of services within the rural area.
16.49 This recognises that some villages provide a greater access to jobs and services than others, and in this respect offer greater potential for sustainable development. Their role may be supported and enhanced as rural centres for surrounding villages.
16.50 It would involve looking at both villages with established service centre functions, and those with good public transport links or the ability for significant improvements.
16.51 Further work would be needed to identify specific settlements. It would mean that less development would be required in other villages.
16.52 It would ensure new residents had good access to services and should help generate support for the delivery of services to rural areas, including public transport.
16.53 It may also provide a scale of development (but still not major development) that generates greatest capacity for community facility provision.
16.54 There may be perceived disadvantages, of receiving a higher share of development, as well as the impacts on local character and on the relationship between settlements.
16.55 It may also direct attention away from the potentials and needs of other villages, including for affordable housing. This option is also less robust if housing requirements were higher, as the impact would be more concentrated.
Option 4 - Dispersed Development
16.56 In contrast to Option C, this looks to take a somewhat more dispersed approach to growth, with a greater range of settlements being considered.
16.57 It would likely involve small-scale development at more villages to accommodate development, including a number of smaller villages.
16.58 As indicated above, this may be of the order of 10+ dwellings for smaller villages, perhaps more, on average, for larger ones, but likely less than under the other options..
16.59 As with all the above options, development would still be assessed against environmental and other planning criteria.