A central theme within this introduction to rural planning is that today’s countryside and the pattern of rural living is not uniform but highly differentiated (Chapter 5), refl ecting the complex interplay of economic, social and environmental factors

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in each locality. The argument developed is that, to date, approaches to rural planning, including those related to land use planning, have tended to underplay this local variation, and, in particular, have failed to integrate economic, social and environmental policy concerns in a satisfactory way. Consequently, rural planning has often lacked coherence and local sensitivity, and has been fraught with internal inconsistencies and tensions. From the previous chapters examining the economic and social challenges facing rural areas, it is evident that environmental policies – and a dividing line between environmental and developmental perspectives on rural change – have been a notable source of such tension. For example, extensive restrictions on development in the countryside – underpinned, in large measure, by environmental justifi cations – are thought by some to have signifi cantly hampered diversifi cation of the rural economy (Chapter 5) and to have exacerbated the rural affordable housing crisis (Chapter 7). Whether these views are entirely justifi ed is of course debatable. However, it is perhaps surprising that such criticisms can be levelled at all, as an appreciation of the close interaction of economic, social and environmental factors lies at the very heart of environmental concern in the countryside. The next two chapters will explain why environmental planning has emerged as such a signifi cant force within rural policy and how the present search for more environmentally sustainable patterns of development could perhaps, in tandem with spatial planning, act as the catalyst for better integrated and ‘multi-functional’ perspectives (see also Chapters 1, 10 and 11) on planning and management in rural areas.