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Planning Advice Note: Pan 73: Rural Diversification

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PLANNING ADVICE NOTE: PAN 73: RURAL DIVERSIFICATION

Recognising Individual Circumstances

50. Increasingly, many businesses are choosing to locate in rural areas not because they need to be there but because they want to be there. Improvements in IT have made companies more footloose and many businesses are able to serve their national and international markets from almost anywhere. This has helped to connect local producers to global markets. Many businesses are attracted to our rural areas because of the quality environment it offers. New facilities for such businesses should be welcomed in rural areas provided they are appropriate in scale, design and location.

BT and Manpower Ofices, Thurso

BT and Manpower Ofices, Thurso

51. Planners should be sensitive to the fact that land ownership, financial considerations, and site availability can also constrain business location. New premises or modest expansion can be of great significance to the operation of a company, and proposals sometimes bring significant benefits to communities with only minor environmental implications. Council planners should be realistic about the opportunities available to a new or expanding business and be aware of the real constraints that they sometimes face.

Business Location

52. A number of rural businesses have little choice in where they are located. Some are by their nature tied to the land they manage; obvious examples are farming and forestry but extractive industries also have little choice in their location. Renewable energy projects are more flexible in terms of location but they still need to be located where there is water or wind. There are some activities that cannot be easily located near to settlements, for example waste treatment works or landfill sites.

Case Study 15: Small-scale Hydro in Highland Perthshire

Small-scale Hydro in Highland Perthshire

The Camserney Burn runs down a steep hillside to the west of Aberfeldy. With regular flow rates and in close proximity to a grid connection it was the ideal location for a small-scale hydro-electric scheme, 'it was literally an asset running through the farm'. There were no designations such as SSSIs or NSAs but environmental considerations were still to the fore as Camserney Hydroscheme Ltd, a company formed by the farmer and his family, took forward their first ever hydro development.

Detailed habitat surveys were carried out to consider possible impacts on flora and fauna. The development also had to sit well in the landscape. Water abstraction levels and flow rates were modelled to ensure that the hydrology and ecology of the burn would not be adversely affected, and an archaeological survey and transport study were also carried out. All the information was collated in an Environmental Statement accompanying the planning application.

Nevertheless, the sensitivities of the site meant that further consultations had to be undertaken with SNH, SEPA and the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board. An otter survey was commissioned and a number of changes to the design of the weir were made to meet SEPA's requirements. Planning conditions had to be formed to place restrictions on abstraction rates and to agree a programme of construction. All of this took time, but delay is sometimes inevitable where there are particular environmental sensitivities to be resolved. It helped that the applicant was aware of this from the outset.

The Camserney Scheme was one of the first small-scale hydro developments in Highland Perthshire and all the parties involved learnt a great deal about the preparation, sharing and presentation of environmental information. Now completed, the development is virtually invisible and quietly producing enough electricity for over 3,000 people.

Proximity to Suppliers or Raw Materials

53. As well as businesses that are tied to the land, there are a range of secondary industries where proximity to raw materials and suppliers is an important factor in their location, for example, a stonemasons in close proximity to a quarry, or a timber yard or a sawmill near a forest. Similarly, there are often benefits in having food processing or packaging facilities close to the farms that supply them. Businesses sometimes cater for a specific rural demand, such as tractor and farm equipment repair services. In all of these instances the rural location of the business might actually help to keep vehicle traffic, and particularly heavy freight, to a minimum. Re-locating the operation to a settlement might give rise to increased volumes of traffic.

Case Study 16: Hutton Stone Company

Hutton Stone CompanyBy combining traditional methods with modern machinery, stone is now being extracted from the Swinton Quarry near Berwick on Tweed for the first time since the 1930s. Marcus Paine realised that by employing techniques used at his family's limestone quarry in Dorset, this small sandstone quarry in the Borders could once more be made viable. Planning permission was granted for a modest expansion and the quarry re-opened in 1994. It is a small-scale operation with only two men working the quarry face at any one time. The stone from the quarry is transported three miles to a stonemason's yard where it is worked into a wide range of stone products. It is essential for the stone-cutting machinery and yard to be located near to the quarry as transporting the stone any further would be uneconomical. The low number of vehicle movements associated with a quarry of this size has not created any difficulties for the local road network. As with all quarries and stone workings strict guidelines for dust and noise emissions must be adhered to, and a safety consultant is employed by the company to audit the sites twice a year.

Hutton Stone now employs 12 people, most of whom were previously involved in agriculture. They have learnt new skills that had been lost to the area for a lifetime and local builders have once again begun to use stone in their building construction. Stone from the Swinton Quarry has been used in restoration work at Edinburgh Castle, and many other projects from Newcastle to Perth.

Glanbia Foods Ltd, Lockerbie Creamery, Lockerbie

Glanbia Foods Ltd, Lockerbie Creamery, Lockerbie

Rural Character

54. There are some businesses whose livelihood depends on their rural setting, especially businesses related to tourism and countryside recreation. For some activities like golf courses and equestrian facilities, whilst a rural setting may be desirable, it might be possible for them to be located near to a settlement or in the urban hinterland. For other businesses such as outdoor activity centres or countryside retreats their remote location can be an essential part of the business.

55. Many businesses like to be located in the countryside. For some this can sit well with the rural flavour of their business, for example knitwear businesses or carpenters. Others, as already mentioned, are simply there because of the high quality environment. However, just because a business is operating from a site does not automatically mean it is necessarily located in the most appropriate site or that it needs to be there for operational reasons. A business serving local markets may be able to do this just as well from a site in a town or village. Having it in the countryside could draw large numbers of visitors, customers or deliveries, and could therefore be unacceptable.

Case Study 17: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Sabhal Mòr OstaigFrom small beginnings in a converted farm steading over 30 years ago, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College in Sleat in the south of Skye, has developed into a unique learning centre fulfilling a pivotal role in the revitalisation of the Gaelic language and the economic and cultural regeneration of the Gaidhealtachd. The college enjoys an international reputation and attracts students from all over the world. The most recent addition to the college is Àrainn Chaluim Chille (the Saint Columbus Campus), a prominent development located on a previously deserted headland in the sound of Sleat.

In normal circumstances, development in such an isolated and sensitive location would not be permitted. However, the new buildings are consistent with the college philosophy of developing a creative new dynamic for Gaelic and a striking symbol of the re-birth of a language that, in the past, was pushed to the fringes.

The college has increased the population of the area dramatically and succeeded in creating a new vibrancy in a quiet corner of the island. The college is the largest employer in south Skye and provides a unique community resource for the area. It has also brought satellite broadband facilities to the area and acted as the catalyst for a number of spin-off companies, such as Cànan, a multimedia publishing company. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig won the Royal Institue of Architects and Surveyors (RIAS) regeneration of Scotland award in 2000.

'Higher education has a key role to play in developing the knowledge economy in rural areas.'
National Planning Framework (Scottish Executive 2004)

Rural Retailing

The Green Welly Stop, Tyndrum56. Retailing should generally be directed to existing settlements. NPPG 8 sets out exceptional circumstances where retail facilities outside the development limits of settlements and beyond green belts could be acceptable. These are:

  • a farm shop tied to an existing farm;
  • a shop designed to serve tourist or recreational facilities (and secondary to the main use);
  • a small-scale shop attached to an existing or approved craft workshop retailing the product direct to the public; and
  • a small-scale shop designed to serve a dispersed rural community.

The Green Welly Stop, Tyndrum

Case Study 18: Österåker Handelscenter

Österåker Handelscenter

In Österåker, a rural area north-west of Stockholm, a new country shop centre (handelscenter) provides a single point for the delivery of goods and services to the area as well as a valuable meeting place for local people. Goods can be ordered on the internet and collected the following day. The centre aims to provide 65% of everyday commodities in the district and for 50% of this trade to be based on internet orders. Postal and medical services are also provided at the centre as well as a hairdressers and a cafeteria. It is hoped that the centre will halve the transport costs of the 175 households in the district.

The concept has been to combine the responsibility of the public sector, the efficiency of the commercial sector and the engagement of the non-profit-making sector. The centre is the result of a partnership between national companies (including a large supermarket chain, a bookmakers, and the state off-licence) public service providers such as the district health authority and the post office, as well as several smaller local companies. The scheme won a Leader+ award in 2002.

Petrol Stations

57. Petrol stations in rural areas usually provide a variety of services, normally involve a retailing element, and in some cases are linked to a food store or small supermarket. It is important to consider these ancillary services when dealing with applications for new or expanding petrol stations. Financial assistance is sometimes available to petrol stations in Rural Areas. Rannoch Petrol Station was purchased by the local community with money from the Scottish Land Fund. The Rural Petrol Stations Grant Scheme assists proprietors of rural petrol stations with the cost of replacing old fuel tanks and pumps and installing facilities for the supply of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG).

Case Study 19: St Kielder Petrol Station

St Kielder Petrol Station information signAfter the closure of the Kielder Petrol Station in a remote part of Northumberland, residents faced a 34-mile round trip to get petrol. With the help of grant aid from the Countryside Agency, Kielder Limited, a community enterprise owned by the residents of the village, purchased the derelict site and now sell petrol and diesel to residents, businesses and visitors. As a community enterprise run on a not-for-profit basis the prices can be maintained at a level comparable with those charged by supermarkets. In order to be self-sustaining, existing buildings on the garage site have been refurbished to provide an additional income stream from engineering, retailing and garage activities.

Further information can be found at www.countryside.gov.uk.

St Kielder Petrol Station

Farm Businesses

58. It should be borne in mind that farm diversification projects of all descriptions, including farm shops, are normally secondary to the operation of the farm. The continued operation of the farm is an important factor to be taken into account and in some instances it will be impossible, or inadvisable, to separate it from the new enterprise.

Case Study 20: Peel Farm - Building Links in the Community

make the country connection - advertIn 1989 Frances Fleming of Peel Farm near Kirriemuir opened a small coffee shop with just a few tables. This was so successful that soon the farmhouse required an extension to allow the business to expand. As the farm business diversified further new shop facilities were provided in disused farm buildings with help from the Farm Business Development Scheme (FBDS). Today, Peel farm employs 11 people selling a wide range of products, many of which are produced in the local area.

Peel Farm has become much more than a farm shop, developing close links with surrounding businesses and the local community. Several local producers rent retail space in the farm shop to display and sell their goods. This provides a retail focus in the area, which in turn has led to increased sales and helped the viability of these local businesses. In addition, the farm runs regular craft workshops and demonstrations, which have proved very popular with the local community. The farm also serves as the local post office.

Together with other quality producers the farm is part of a local business network. The network encourages people to 'Make the Country Connection', a scheme aimed at highlighting the many activities and facilities available in the Angus Countryside. In an area with a limited market, networks like this are important to ensure that businesses complement each other.

Further information on the Farm Business Development Scheme (FBDS) can be found on the Scottish Executive Website www.scotland.gov.uk/topics/agriculture/grants/FBDS/Intro

Land Ownership

59. A wide range of groups and individuals have land ownership interests in rural Scotland. Large estates account for a significant portion of Scotland's land area and are owned by both private individuals and organisations. There are, of course, many other smaller land holdings under diverse types of ownership. Communities themselves also have the ability to purchase land in their area. Most landowners take their stewardship responsibilities very seriously, recognising their duty of care to the environment, the need to invest to ensure long-term prosperity and the benefits of developing long-standing relationships with communities and businesses in an area. The delivery of projects often depends on the availability of land for new development and land owners are important stakeholders in our rural areas. Their engagement in the development plan process and subsequent delivery of projects is essential if plan objectives are to be realised.

60. Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, communities have a right to buy when a landowner indicates that he wishes to sell land in which they have a registered interest. The Scottish Land Fund contributes to sustainable development in rural Scotland by assisting communities to acquire, develop and manage local land or land assets. Following a community buy-out, the construction of new homes on Gigha has helped to attract new people and new businesses to the Island. In only two years the Island's population has risen from less than 100 to over 120.

Case Study 21: The Glenlivet Estate's Strategy for Diversification

Glenlivet Estate workerThe Glenlivet Estate comprises over 30 let farms, 3,500 hectares of commercial forests and sporting interests including grouse moors, salmon fishing and deer stalking. It is managed by the Crown Estate who have a long-standing policy of encouraging new enterprises and activities. Since the late 80s the development of the Glenlivet Estate has been guided by a clear strategy giving high priority to the long-term development of the estate's community and it's recreational, educational and other resources.

A non-statutory development plan sets out the estate's strategic development priorities of supporting farm and economic diversification, encouraging good forest management and improving provision for tourists in the area. The plan is reviewed every three years and great importance is placed on co-operation with the local community. Initially with the support of a dedicated development manager and latterly through the estate management team, consultations are undertaken with tenants, newsletters are circulated, and exhibitions and open days are arranged; ensuring that community associations, local groups and individual interests are all engaged in the development process.

The result is a strategy in line with the statutory development plan, sensitive to local circumstances and supportive of local business needs. The strategy has encouraged farm tenants and local people to develop a significant number of new or diversified businesses. These include an extension of the Cairngorm reindeer herd, a farm-based woodcutting enterprise, a country museum, birch woodland management schemes, a tourism marketing association, trout fishing ponds and a spring-water bottling plant. Several old agricultural buildings have been converted to holiday accommodation, and a network of walks and trails, car parks and picnic sites has also been developed.

Further information on land reform is available on the Scottish Executive Website www.scotland.gov.uk/topics/rural/land