Draft Local Plan October 2012

Supporting the Rural Economy

6.18 Our rural areas are attractive places to live but we must seek to ensure that they remain attractive places to work so that rural communities remain vibrant. Our evidence indicates that businesses in rural areas are typically engaged in similar activities to our urban areas with a high proportion of service based activities, although businesses tend to be smaller and there is more home working and self employment. High speed broadband and mobile telecommunications will be crucial to the success of such businesses.

6.19 In the interest of sustainable development, our strategy directs larger businesses and employers to the main towns which have generally better transport connections, but continues to support the rural economy through a positive approach towards homeworking, flexible working practices, tourism, small rural business premises and diversifying the land based sector. The land based sector remains important to protecting home food production and reducing food miles and also plays an essential role in shaping and maintaining the character of the countryside. The prospects of the sector are good but there is a continuing need to adapt to changing subsidy regimes, emerging markets, environmental, hygiene and animal welfare standards as well as climate change.

6.20 Diversification into non-agricultural activities can be vital to the continuing viability of many farm businesses. The need to protect home food production is important to reduce food miles and profitable farming is also the most cost effective means of delivering environmental and landscape management benefits. Farm diversification may include bed and breakfast/self catering units, equestrian development, farm shops, processing farm produce, and the letting of existing buildings for office space, or industrial and commercial uses.

6.21 The Council is generally supportive of well-conceived farm diversification schemes which secure long term benefits for farming and the local economy. New activities should not conflict with agricultural operations, which should remain the dominant land use. Farm diversification is not an opportunity for asset stripping to raise short term revenues and new economic activities should remain part of the farm business to provide an ongoing additional farm income. Existing buildings should be reused where feasible and proposals should conform to Core Policy 13. New buildings will only be allowed where they are required for a diversification proposal which is a genuine extension of and fully integrated with the existing farm business (e.g. buildings necessary for processing of farm produce, farm shops selling local farm produce) or to meet a specific economic need which cannot otherwise be met in the locality including within or on the edge of a nearby village or town.

6.22 All proposals should be consistent in scale with a rural location and not result in the loss of amenity to other local businesses or residents, or spoil the enjoyment of other users of the countryside. New buildings will be preferably located within or adjacent to a group of existing farm buildings and be located and designed to integrate with the landscape having regard to local landscape appraisals, policy areas and guidance in the Cotswolds AONB management plan (see Core Policy 17). Proposals for farm shops will be assessed to ensure that they are proposed to be a genuine retail outlet of agricultural produce from the local area and in terms of their impact on existing village or town centre shops serving the local community. Conditions will be applied limiting the type of goods sold and proportion of externally sourced goods. A farm business plan should accompany applications for farm diversification so that the proposal can be properly assessed. The Council will issue further guidance on the content of farm business plans.

6.23 There are many large country estates in the District including Blenheim, Cornbury, Heythrop and Ditchley. Such estates manage a variety of natural, historic and cultural assets of importance locally, nationally or internationally, often in addition to a farming enterprise, business premises and tourist facilities. These estates continue to seek to diversify their incomes in a similar way to farm diversification. The diversification of an estate economy will be supported where it provides a sustainable approach to balancing economic activity with the conservation and enhancement of natural and built assets. This should be demonstrated through an estate management plan which follows the same principles set out above for farm diversification proposals.

CORE POLICY 12 - Supporting the Rural Economy

The Council will work in partnership to promote improved broadband and mobile telecommunications in rural areas and adopt a positive approach to well designed proposals to facilitate homeworking and flexible working practices (such as live-work) which maintain the amenity of existing residents. Any proposals involving new housing will also be considered against other relevant policies.

New small business sites in or adjacent to towns and villages identified in Core Policy 2 will be supported where they are commensurate with the scale and character of the area and would meet a business need which cannot otherwise be met in the locality.

Development proposals which make a positive contribution to farm or country estate diversification will be supported where they:

  • operate as part of and will continue to add value to the core farm/estate business
  • remain compatible and consistent in scale with the farm/estate operation and a countryside location
  • re-use existing buildings where feasible in accordance with Core Policy 13
  • are supported by a farm business plan or estate management plan

Proposals involving new and replacement buildings will be allowed where required for diversification proposals which are fully integrated with an existing farm business or where they meet a specific economic need which cannot otherwise be met in the locality, including within or on the edge of a nearby village or town.

Proposals for farm shops will be permitted where they form part of a diversification scheme to sell produce from the farm or farms in the immediate vicinity and do not seriously undermine the viability and vitality of shopping provision in existing villages. Conditions will be imposed to limit the proportion of ancillary goods