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General election 2024: the key issues affecting our countryside

Tom Stewart
By Tom Stewart
10th June 2024

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this election will be make or break for the countryside.

Its future – along with that of our country and our planet – will be shaped by how the new government tackles the era-defining decisions already piling up in its in-tray.

Affordable housing

Housing has been high on the agenda during the campaign period so far, and for good reason. A healthy home is the foundation for a decent life and a human right that people up and down the country are being denied. In rural areas, where levels of homelessness have jumped 40% in just five years and more than 300,000 people are waiting for social housing, the situation is dire.

We’re calling on the government to redefine ‘affordable’ housing in line with local incomes rather than the whims of the market, set ambitious new targets for social and genuinely affordable housing and enable more small-scale, community-led developments in rural areas. At the same time, the system of hope value that prices out local councils from land markets should be abolished and the proliferation of rural short-term lets and second homes curtailed.

Protecting and improving our countryside

Crucially, there’s enough shovel-ready brownfield land for 1.2 million new homes in England alone. Close to where people already live, work and go to school, these homes must be built before we think about developing greenfield sites and losing more of our green spaces for good. We’d want to invent Green Belts and other protected landscapes if we didn’t have them already. Tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss means protecting and improving the countryside we’ve got left, not covering it in concrete.

It’s been frustrating if unsurprising to see the environment deprioritised in both major parties’ campaigns. Climate change is the biggest threat to the countryside and urgent action is required to stop it. We need to rapidly decarbonise our energy system in a way that protects the countryside for future generations. Rooftop solar is a common sense solution staring us in the face but which successive governments have overlooked.

Rooftop solar

As it stands, we’re missing a major opportunity to generate vast amounts of cheap, low-carbon electricity on our rooftops – something people’s purses, let alone the planet, can ill afford. The new government should require solar panels to be included on all new homes and suitable commercial buildings, make it more affordable for people and businesses to retrofit existing properties and set a target for at least 60% of the UK’s solar energy to come from rooftop panels.

Joined up thinking on land

Although the planning system is at the heart of solutions to the housing and climate crises, we’ve heard little about it so far from either Labour or the Conservatives. The country needs a long-term, cross-departmental vision for how we make the best use of our finite amount of land. For far too long, decisions on development, energy and environmental protections have been made without the joined-up thinking required to make them a success. Net zero targets should be included in local and neighbourhood plans, which must also give local communities a say in decisions that affect them.

A critical election

Whoever makes up the new government, we call on them to recognise the importance of the countryside and the people who live there. Together, and with enough political will, it’s possible to build a Britain fit for the future and protect the countryside for everyone’s benefit.

We’re working hard to make sure the countryside and our rural communities get a voice this general election. You can read our general election manifesto here, and if you want to find out more about our campaigning during the election, join our mailing list.

A Father and son admire the view while rambling in the Lake District, Cumbria.
Paula Solloway / Alamy Stock Photo