Low-Impact development, self-governance and enclosure: planning's difficult relationship with rural sustainability

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Environment and Technology


Rural issues remain overlooked in planning debates about sustainable futures - other than as a site for preservation, food production, recreation or urban overspill. However, in the context of climate change, food insecurity and climate change the purpose of the rural in a sustainable future remains poorly defined. How planning deals with structural issues such as these depends upon how planning - as a tool which is suited to incremental change - forecloses on radical sustainable futures in rural environments.
A specific gap in the literature is around the meaning and implication of those who aim to live beyond the system - by not having planning permission - in a radically sustainable way. The low impact development movement broadly rejects mainstream attitudes towards carbon reliance, industrialised agriculture and private property. However, planning has way of understanding this which leads to significant obstacles in gaining and retaining planning permission for low impact sites.
The broad themes explored will be planning's treatment of rural areas and historical geographies of rural land and property. Discourses in planning focus on the urban as a driver of growth. Consequently, the rural is treated both as an environment to preserved in its natural state. Viewed in this way the rural is the urban's other: where the urban is designed and anthropocentric the rural is natural and pristine. From this I will investigate how the rural is perceived and why certain practices and forms of development are not seen as legitimate. This will be situated in the context of the process of enclosure. The context of enclosure is important, as it is a historical process which has shaped the countryside by through restricting public access through the establishment of private property on previously common land. Relatedly, the process and establishment of private property has led to a perceptive difference in what the countryside is for and the bounds of legitimate activity and development. Furthermore, the radical groups which challenged enclosure and advocated for a return of the commons - such as the Diggers - are strong influences for ideology behind low impact development.
The question the research will seek to answer is 'What are the consequences of the existing planning order on non-conforming users who follow radically sustainable lifestyles?' To do this I will collect qualitative data about why research participants don't engage with planning and how avoiding detection affects day-to-day activities. Drawing on Forde's description of planning having a "preservationist rationality" I would like to research how this permeates into determining the bounds of acceptability for rural activity both within and beyond planning. Furthermore, I would to explore the aesthetic element of these bounds and how they are policed. A specific focus on non-conforming users and planning in rural areas fills a gap in literature and will provide further scholarship regarding low impact development.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2282634 Studentship ES/P000630/1 16/09/2019 01/10/2023 George Rowland