Across the rural economy of Rother, a range of opportunities are emerging for businesses. The primary objective of this project was to understand how to leverage these opportunities to enhance the rural economy.
The project unearthed that positive outcomes could be achieved by synthesising sectors across the rural economy, with a focus on bolstering strengths in:
- tourism and viticulture
- improving transportation access
- planning for new land management practices.
This would be achieved by using new and innovative technologies, creating opportunities in the creative and digital sector while also promoting sustainable practices.
The main challenge of this project was to stimulate economic growth across rural businesses within Rother while being considerate of the restrictions placed on planning and development practices due to the concentration of protected land across the district.
With the High Weald AONB covering a large amount of land across Rother, opportunities for the direct development of infrastructure are limited in their scale and scope. Thus, rural businesses are required to capitalise on available resources to expand and develop their practices.
Recent political and economic developments have posed obstacles for rural development. While working to develop solutions, consideration was placed on reinforcing and enabling affordable and sustainable lifestyles. Tackling obstacles around the availability of labour and exploring methods to reduce outgoings for rural businesses are crucial factors in facilitating the growth of the local economy.
The project identified barriers and opportunities across the rural economy of Rother and translated them into actionable recommendations for Rother District Council. These recommendations were categorised by urgency.
Emphasis was placed on developing a communications and engagement strategy to generate support and ensure better engagement with rural businesses. Parallel to this, focusing on developing entry level jobs in industries such as fishing, farming and ecotourism and placing an emphasis on skills and training were highlighted to be of most importance.
Further recommendations focused on developing a cohesive marketing strategy for tourism, facilitating hybrid working practices, working with landowners and farmers to encourage agricultural diversification and facilitating changing land use.
Creating a local scale circular economy, encouraging the uptake of sustainable building practices, and allocating resources to attract and retain a younger, metropolitan demographic while reinforcing transport networks and encouraging decarbonisation all featured as supporting recommendations.
This project has generated a clear understanding of the main barriers and opportunities facing the rural economy across Rother. Moving forwards, this work will influence the development of a thriving and prosperous rural economy.
The ideal future vision resulting from this work will feature developed and efficient infrastructure networks, a physically and mentally healthy population and a mature, well marketed and sustainable tourism sector based on a thriving viticulture industry with future development that is centered around the preservation and restoration of protected areas.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The council can capitalise on emerging opportunities for the rural economy in Rother and the new approach can be sustained through considering the perspectives of rural businesses in the development of the new Local Plan and other emerging policies and strategies.
No solution to the challenges facing the rural economy is in itself comprehensive. The perspectives put forward within this project, encompassing the views of stakeholders and informed by desk-based research will weave the fabric of an approach for Rother District Council which will lead to improvement in the condition of the rural economy and the ability to capitalise on emerging opportunities throughout all sectors.
There is a desire to be able to respond quickly but also a recognition that some activity will take time to shape and implement or may be contingent on being able to secure resources or conditions. For this reason, the identification of short, medium and long term priorities was a focal point of the recommendations.