The objective of this chapter is to look across sectoral issues, to consider how these are inter-related, and to defi ne the broader rationale and role of spatial planning in rural areas. The chapter is also about:

understanding how the general role of planning is changing in the countryside, often moving from top-down responses to solutions that are locally designed and which respond to a wider array of concerns;

appreciating the key challenges for the planning system; these centre on frictions between competing interests – often focused upon resources or confl icting values – generating a uniquely rural dilemma. These confl icts will persist in the future, but might spatial governance and spatial planning play a more effective part in easing tension? The emergent opportunities are considered; and fi nally understanding how spatial planning can become an integrating hub in rural policy development and delivery, giving equal treatment to competing interests and tackling the confl icts that have defi ned rural society for at least the last 60 years.

Is statutory planning moving to centre-stage in rural policy delivery? The aim of this book has been to consider planning’s role in responding to the processes of rural change. But in the opening chapters, we noted that after the Second World War the fl edgling planning system was handed curtailed powers for dealing with the processes and outcomes of change in the countryside. The 1947 system was preoccupied with an urban agenda and, ultimately, with controlling development. Despite some dissenting voices in early debates on the future form and function of the system, most land and many forms of ‘development’ in rural areas were placed beyond the reach of planning. Thus the system was measurably weaker in the countryside than in towns and cities. In the years after 1947, the situation steadily worsened with planning gradually reduced to a ‘regulatory rump’ (limited to the regulation of land and property uses) policing the smaller number of development applications coming forward in the countryside. Some towns were permitted to grow during this period, becoming commuter settlements within the spheres of larger cities or key settlements acting as employment and service hubs for the wider rural hinterland (Newby, 1979). But in many parts of the countryside, planning became a regulatory activity closely identifi ed with conservation and with the preservation of rural character. That is not to say that these large swathes of rural Britain were free from development during this era: the 1960s bore witness to an unprecedented programme of road building and infrastructural development largely removed from the control of local planning. Indeed, the local system’s inability to infl uence such change only fuelled belief in its impotence, or limited ‘sectoral’ signifi cance.