Laborious planning rules are losing the Conservative Party support in rural areas, a survey has found.
Some 12 million voters live in the countryside and England’s rural areas account for around £210 billion (16 per cent) of the country’s economy, making them a crucial election battleground.
Most residents voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election (46 per cent), compared with 29 per cent for Labour and 13 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
However, while the majority intend to vote Conservative at the next election, their share of the vote has fallen to 38 per cent, whereas Labour’s share of the vote has increased to 36 per cent. While the Liberal Democrats’ support has declined to 10 per cent, the Green Party have increased their share of the rural vote from three to eight per cent.
Tories treat countryside ‘as a sort of museum’
Mark Tufnell, the president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which commissioned the survey, said the results show that “old tribal loyalties of politics are dissipating” and any party which commits to bolstering the rural economy is likely to win a great deal of support.
He said odious planning rules are likely to be part of the reason why support for the Conservatives has declined, as the regime treats the countryside “as a sort of museum” and holds back the economy.
“We have so many businesses that could expand, that could grow and create good new jobs, but government too often gets in the way,” said Mr Tufnell.
“The planning regime, as just one example, is almost designed to hold back the economy, treating the countryside as a sort of museum. Sensible small-scale housing developments are often rejected out-of-hand and applications to convert disused farm buildings into office or workshop space can often take years.
“As a result, fewer jobs get created and housing becomes less affordable, so young people just move away.”
The CLA questioned 1,000 people across Cornwall, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Norfolk and Gwynedd for the survey.
Brain drain from countryside
Almost three quarters of voters (71 per cent) believe opportunities for young people in the countryside have either decreased or stagnated in the last five years.
The majority of respondents (79 per cent) blamed the lack of affordable housing in rural areas for the brain drain of young people from the countryside.
A further 42 per cent said their community had declined economically in the last five years.