News in Brief 3 March 2016

The latest news, views and more from around rural Yorkshire or that have an impact on charities and community groups in our area.

Housing and Planning

Ministers have announced plans to require new planning applications to set out their financial benefits more widely than currently required, going beyond ‘local finance considerations’ to include matters such as council tax revenue implications. The proposals are part of yet another planning reform package which also includes measures to simplify neighbourhood planning process, create a register of brownfield land, and change statutory consultation requirements. The full package of proposals is currently open to consultation until 15 April 2016. Planning Portal, 25 February.

At the same time, another planning review has been launched by Government Ministers, this time specifically looking at reducing regulatory burdens and supporting new homes, jobs and innovation in rural areas. A key element of the review will look at further relaxing rules on the conversion of agricultural buildings to homes. It will also look at issues such as how the planning system helps or hinders those setting up farm shops and agricultural structures such as polytunnels. Those with an interest in rural areas, particularly farmers and other rural businesses, are being invited to submit evidence to the review process before. The call for evidence closes on Thursday 21 April 2016. Planning Portal, 18 February | Rural Planning Review consultation page

Meanwhile, the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has added its voice to those claiming that current government policy is insufficient to meet current and future demand for new and affordable housing. Its report calls for the Government to reconsider defining ‘starter homes’ as affordable housing, given that those homes will be available for sale on the open market after five years; along with measures to promote greater emphasis on design quality and sustainability in new housing. Planning Portal, 25 February.

Transport

The Local Government Association is calling for new council powers to tackle problems in rural communities caused by lorries using inappropriate routes. It follows several recent reports, including a lorry driver who got lost in a small village in Devon and ended up colliding with four properties and damaging an historic bridge. The LGA wants councils to have the power to issue fines themselves via civil enforcement routes rather than having to go through the courts to make the process more streamlined. RSN Online News, 27 February.

The Campaign for Better Transport has launched a new interactive map showing which areas of the country have been worst hit by cuts to bus subsidies, and where more cuts are planned for the future. The map stems from the Buses in Crisis report (PDF), which was published last year. It shows that in our region, only York City has managed to cut bus funding by less than 25%. Campaign for Better Transport Bus Cuts map.

Broadband

The communications regulator, Ofcom, has said that BT must do more to open up its network to competition, but has stopped short of requiring it to sell off its BT Open Reach company, which manages telephone and broadband infrastructure. Ofcom says greater access to competitors could reduce the cost of rolling out fibre networks by as much as 40%. Daily Telegraph, 25 February.

Meanwhile, the British Infrastructure Group of MPs have called on more to be done to tackle what it calls BT’s “natural monopoly” in the broadband sector, although BT claims that it is doing more than anyone else to bring broadband to rural areas. Northumberland Gazette, 27 February.

These developments come as a new survey shows that a majority of the population feel that not enough is being done to tackle rural broadband issues and that access will remain unequal for future generations. Western Gazette, 19 February.

Health

A new pilot project in Devon is to assess the impact of rising rates of dementia in rural communities. The Farming, Dementia and Networks of Care study, led by Plymouth University, will investigate how rising numbers of people living with dementia will impact on rural communities, where populations tend on average to be older, but where support networks and care services can be less accessible than in towns and cities. RSN Online News, 19 February.

Society

The Law Society is warning that Government plans to close 86 courts in England and Wales will have a disproportionate effect on access to justice in rural areas. Society President Jonathan Smithers said, “The majority of these closures will make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families." RSN Online News, 17 February.

Environment

Farmers and landowners are being encouraged to apply for grants to create new woodland as a measure to improve the environment, increase business diversity, and mitigate against flooding. The Woodland for Water grants offer up to £6,800 per hectare for woodland creation projects. The grants are available until the end of March. York Press, 28 February.

Community

The West Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge is featured in an article highlighting how community activity and the work of the Town Hall Association has been the key to tackling the impact of this winter’s flooding. The Guardian, 11 January.

The North Yorkshire County Council Community Awards are now open for nominations. Has a project, group or volunteer in your area made a difference that deserves recognition? Visit the Community Awards website now to find out how to nominate them. Nominations close at the end of May and the Awards will be announced at an event in October.

Charity Governance

The Charity Commission has issued revised guidance on charity trading and tax. This updated the guidance on when and how charities may engage in trading. It focuses mainly on trading for the purpose of raising funds, rather than trading to carry out the charity’s objects. It also explains when a separate trading company should be established to carry on such activity. It includes practical advice and crucially reflects legal developments and the Commission’s experience of advising on the issues. Importantly, if your charity has a trading subsidiary, the guidance on corporate gift aid has been revised. Download the new guidance from the Charity Commission website.

Politics and Government

MPs have issued a cautious welcome to Government plans to increase funding to help local authorities in rural areas. The measures, designed to help councils manage the transition to full local retention of business rates, will see the rural services delivery grant increase to £80.5m next year and £32.7m of transition funding going to rural areas over the next two years. The new arrangements follow campaigning by MPs and others as part of the Rural Fair Share Campaign. RSN Online News, 22 February.

Statistics

Latest local government finance statistics are now available. Updated data covering quarterly capital spending and receipts; forecast capital spending, financing and borrowing; Council Tax receipts; pension income and spending; outstanding local authority borrowing and investment; and highway maintenance spending has been updated by the Department for Communities and Local Government and can be downloaded via their website. Much of the data can be filtered by different variables, including geographical region.