In sharp contrast to our understanding of towns and cities, there is a popular conception that rural areas remain serene and timeless, as Howard Newby put it ‘a source of peaceful certainty in an ever changing and uncertain modern world’ (Newby, 1988: 1). However, if we care to look beyond the picture postcard images and rosy accounts of rural life we may be surprised to fi nd that the countryside is undergoing rapid (possibly revolutionary) change at the present time and that this in fact has been a recurring feature of rural areas for the last 300 years. In the next three chapters we argue that economic factors have been central to this experience and, in combination with shifting political priorities, these have played a key part in shaping not only the varying fortunes and makeup of the rural economy, but also social and environmental change in the countryside. Until recent times, ‘town and country planning’ was seen to have played a relatively detached part in these processes. This partly refl ects its limited remit in relation to key sectors in the rural economy, agriculture and forestry, but perhaps more critically ‘a preoccupation with land-orientated issues and the absence

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of a coherent overall policy framework for rural areas’ (Cherry, 1976: 265; see also the previous chapter). The new system of spatial planning does, however, present an opportunity to rectify this situation. As government policy is shifting from a focus on agriculture to a much wider rural policy framework, there is also evidence of a more direct concern for rural economic matters within current planning practice.