Mark Scott
Search for other papers by Mark Scott in
Current site
Google Scholar
Spatial planning and rural quality of life

Planning is central to the spatial governance of rural territories in terms of managing spatial change processes, balancing competing and emerging demands for rural space, and guiding the use of land as a fundamental rural resource that underpins the rural economy and essential rural social infrastructure, such as housing supply. At its core, spatial planning is concerned with making places better for people. However, in a rural context, planning has often been dominated by a preservation ethos, which seeks to protect rural places from development on the basis of farmland preservation or to preserve landscape quality, while often neglecting the social dimension of rural places. This has often led to a primacy of agricultural interests in shaping rural futures, which in turn has marginalised socially progressive planning practices. To address this deficit, this chapter explores the potential role of planning to enable rural places to flourish through adopting a well-being perspective. The chapter examines how well-being and quality of life perspectives have been translated to spatial planning debates; however, notably, this emerging practice tends to focus on measurement and monitoring in terms of planning outcomes with limited attention to the interrelationships between various well-being domains or the causal mechanisms at play. This chapter, instead, examines how planning can provide a critical enabling factor for ensuring rural assets can be translated to well-being-orientated outcomes. In turn, a well-being perspective provides an integrative and people-centred approach to planning that enhances how rural communities function that move beyond an outdated development-preservation binary.


This chapter focuses on the role of spatial planning in enhancing or eroding quality of life in rural regions and localities. Planning is central to the spatial governance of rural territories in terms of managing spatial change processes, balancing competing and emerging demands for rural space, and guiding the use of land as a fundamental rural resource that underpins the rural economy and essential rural social infrastructure, such as housing supply. This role within the rural land-use system is also critical in addressing global environmental imperatives, such as climate disruption, biodiversity and habitat loss and food and energy security. However, spatial planning theory and practice are often dominated by an overwhelming focus on urban places, with planners perceiving rural places as agricultural domains or as scenic backdrops, and thus as places to protect from encroaching development pressure, which often neglects the social dimensions of the rural.

This chapter argues that rural planning has been dominated by narrow and unimaginative agendas leading to a marginalisation of socially progressive planning practices. To address this deficit, this chapter explores the potential role of planning to enable rural places to flourish through adopting a well-being perspective. It explores the emergence of well-being and quality of life as a public policy goal, increasingly adopted as an alternative approach to traditional measures of economic performance such as productivity or household income. The chapter then examines how well-being and quality of life perspectives have been translated to spatial planning debates; however, notably, this emerging practice tends to focus on measurement and monitoring in terms of planning outcomes with limited attention to the interrelationships between various well-being domains or the causal mechanisms at play. Moreover, indicators used for measurement are often more relevant to urban places than tailored to rural experiences. To address these limitations, the chapter draws on the author’s collaboration with Menelaos Gkartzios and Nick Gallent in developing a rural capitals framework to address the connections between ‘capitals’ or rural resources and the potential role of spatial planning in ‘converting’ these capitals towards a countryside of well-being (Gkartzios et al., 2022). To contextualise this discussion, the chapter first charts the limitations of established rural planning logics or narratives to identify the rationale for a well-being perspective.

Rural planning logics: an unimaginative agenda

Definitions of planning have changed over time and vary considerably across the world and inevitably reflect specific governance and institutional traditions. On a basic level, Healey refers to planning activity as being about ‘making better places’ (2010), which applies equally to rural and urban localities. However, as described by Lapping and Scott (2019), from the mid-twentieth century, planning theory and practice in the global North became increasingly focused on urban issues with rural planning (and by extension, rural places) playing a more marginal role, often focused on narrow development paths reflecting context-specific political priorities. To illustrate this, synthesised from the literature, I identify four alternative (illustrative rather than exhaustive) stylised rural planning logics that highlight the narrow and unimaginative rural planning agenda found across many countries: (1) preservationist rural planning; (2) developmentalist rural planning; (3) laissez-faire approaches; and (4) neoliberalised rural planning.

The tone for preservationist rural planning for much of the twentieth century, particularly in core, highly urbanised regions, was established in the 1920s with Patrick Abercrombie’s seminal work The Preservation of Rural England (Abercrombie, 1926), influential both in terms of his analysis of the rural condition and also in relation to his policy prescription. In this work, Abercrombie identifies aspects of early twentieth-century rural transformation that continue to resonate strongly with the contemporary countryside: a concern with urban sprawl, people ‘colonising’ the countryside, the impacts of increasing car ownership and mobility, and the countryside as a consumption space, particularly for recreation and second-home ownership. From this analysis, two key policy imperatives were established: first, the preservation of agricultural land, and second, the preservation of the countryside and landscape on aesthetic grounds.

Despite being rooted in a specific rural context (England), Abercrombie’s framing of rural planning was hugely significant in setting the rural planning agenda for much of the twentieth century and was deeply influential to the professional ideology of the planner and in establishing an enduring preservation ethos underpinning rural planning practice. As Curry and Owen (2009) note, this ‘no development ethic’ framed physical development in the countryside as an environmental detractor. From a US perspective, Lapping (2006) also charts a similar trajectory whereby planners have focused on (and largely unquestioned) the protection of the family farm, farmland preservation and amenity protection as key planning priorities. In many regards, key rural planning policies emerged from countries that had experienced rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in the early decades of the twentieth century, which introduced new planning policies designed to protect rural places from urban encroachment and sprawl, seeking to preserve the unique environmental qualities of rural places. This interest led to a legacy of enduring planning interventions, such as the establishment of national parks throughout Europe, the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty, or the planning of new ‘greenbelts’ to preserve the rural landscape around metropolitan centres throughout the global North. This often leads to an idealisation of the bucolic rural landscape as the antithesis of urban development; places to be preserved and protected, and development (such as housing) to be carefully managed or restricted to key settlements. Critically, this preservation ethos often fails to reflect shifting economic, social, environmental and demographic realities of rural areas with the protection of land resources at the expense of economic and social welfare, institutionalising some rural localities to a downwards cycle of decline through restricting development which may provide employment or housing opportunities for local people (Curry & Owen, 2009).

In contrast to the preservationist ethos above, is a developmentalist rural planning logic, identified by Tonts (2020). This approach is characteristic of resource-rich rural regions, with a focus on the exploitation of natural resources through extractive and agricultural industries, with an almost exclusive focus on the goal of economic development. This priority is translated to planning practice via ‘a suite of values oriented towards promoting the conditions for rural economic growth. This includes the protection of agricultural land, ensuring access to natural resources of extractive industries, land development, and the development of infrastructure that supports new industries’ (Tonts, 2020, p. 780). While planning interventions are designed to support economic growth, a significant outcome of this agenda has been the degradation of natural systems. In the Australian case discussed by Tonts, this includes habitat clearance for agricultural expansion and natural resource exploitation resulting in soil erosion and salinisation, biodiversity loss and species extinction. Within other contexts, these impacts might also include a decline in water quality, loss of cultural landscapes and continued carbon dependency.

While the preservationist and developmentalist perspectives both rely on strong institutions and strategic alignment, many remote or peripheral rural regions can be characterised by weak institutions and reliance on self-help and social and family networks to underpin local development. In these cases, rural planning often evolves as a laissez-faire regime (see, for example, Gallent et al., 2003) whereby development is unregulated or facilitated to support family traditions or perceived local priorities. In these cases, rural planning is characterised by informal regulatory arrangements and actual contraventions of planning law; the family is prioritised over the state in welfare provision and housing production and the state is an ineffective regulator of housing produced, and private interests are emphasised (Gkartzios & Norris, 2011). Gallent et al. (2003) identify rural places in Southern Europe as fitting with this approach; however, these characteristics are also similar to Murdoch et al.’s (2003) so-called clientelist countryside identified in parts of the UK, and planning governance in rural Ireland (Gkartzios & Scott, 2014). While this approach is more likely to favour economic development rather than environmental protection, the literature suggests that development is also shaped by the priorities of local elites, and a lack of transparency in decision-making erodes local trust (Fox-Rogers, 2019).

Finally, neoliberalised rural planning logics have increasingly prevailed and tend to overlap with the three previous logics identified depending on spatial context. Over the last decade or more, the spatial planning literature has witnessed widespread accounts of the application of neoliberal ideas – the shifting relationship between the state and market – to understanding both spatial governance processes and development outcomes. This shifting balance has been characterised as both ‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’ neoliberalism (Peck & Tickell, 2002), combining both a commitment to extending markets while also deploying state power in the pursuit of market interests. Allmendinger (2016, p. 1), in a detailed critique of the neoliberalisation of planning, argues that planning has ‘shifted incrementally but perceptively away from an area of public policy that was an arena where [development] issues could be determined in the public interest to one that legitimises state-led facilitation of growth and development by superficially involving a wide range of interests and issues’, and that planners are themselves directly complicit in these shifts and changes. In this way, planning has increasingly moved towards acting as a facilitator of market-led development aided by a ‘delivery state’ ethos (Parker et al., 2020).

Extensive studies, outlined below, demonstrate that rural planning has been both the subject of neoliberalism (specifically deregulation and privatisation tendencies) and a method of neoliberalism as planning reforms provide an enabling agenda for business-friendly policies. In this regard, rural planning policy and practice has developed a wide-ranging repertoire of neoliberal toolkits including fast-track planning legislation to deliver infrastructure across the rural landscape, notably renewable energy projects (Natarajan, 2019), the use of market-based incentives to protect rural landscapes (Daniels, 2019) or stimulate physical development (for example, housing) in remote rural regions (e.g. Gkartzios & Norris, 2011), the increased use of planning gain within development management (e.g. Fox-Rogers & Murphy, 2015) to deliver local facilities within underfunded rural municipalities, an increased reliance on community actors to produce local plans as part of the statutory planning system (Parker et al., 2017), and deregulating aspects of rural planning or the introduction of ‘light touch’ regulation such as introducing rural Enterprise Zones (Baker & Parker, 2018; Defra, 2015) to reduce so-called bureaucratic ‘red-tape’. These neoliberalising tendencies have also been advanced against the backdrop of widespread austerity measures imposed after the great financial crisis of 2008, resulting in leaner budgets for municipalities and the downsizing of planning departments in rural regions along with the rationalisation of rural services (Faulkner et al., 2019; Murphy & Scott, 2014), resulting in the further entrenchment of entrepreneurial planning approaches to offset diminished resources.

These stylised examples of co-existing, and at times overlapping, rural planning logics fail to recognise and address, however, the contemporary rural condition: the diversity of rural places, the ongoing restructuring of agriculture and wider rural economies, shifting demography and new environmental imperatives that will shape rural futures. Moreover, these approaches are often underpinned by a dichotomy between economy and environment, with limited understanding of the interrelationships between economic, social and environmental processes within rural localities. For example, a preservationist approach often focuses on a narrow set of environmental goals, neglecting the economic and social health of rural communities, while the developmentalist logic represents a largely discredited and outdated economic argument whereby environmental protection is perceived as a key obstacle to development (see Kitchen & Marsden, 2009). Neoliberalising agendas favour market interests through business-friendly agendas often at the expense of local democratic decision-making or community values, framing planning as a bureaucratic barrier to development. This suggests an urgent need to reinvent rural planning for the twenty-first century. In the remaining sections, the chapter explores the potential of well-being to be mainstreamed as a rural planning outcome as a means of reinforcing the interrelationships between social, economic and ecological systems to enhance rural quality of life.

Well-being as a policy goal

Since the early 2000s, there has been a dramatic rise in interest among researchers and policymakers in the concept of well-being, which intensified in the wake of the financial crisis as policymakers sought new narratives that challenge the dominance of economic productivity measurements as indicators of social progress (Bache & Scott, 2018). Economists have traditionally employed the concept of ‘utility’ to measure welfare, which in traditional economic models is assumed to be an increasing function of present and future consumption of goods, leisure and amenities. Due to the difficulty of measuring utility, income was generally used as an indicator of individual and societal welfare, using personal income at an individual level, and national income – Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – at the macro level. It has long been recognised by economists, geographers, sociologists, psychologists and others, however, that macro-measures of national income are inadequate measures of the performance of an economy and wider society (e.g. Erikson, 1993; United Nations, 1954) and have only a partial relationship with societal well-being. Such a singular approach can have its limitations in that economic progress does not necessarily ensure the provision of other factors that might be considered to be important for quality of life – for example, shared community values. Indeed, there could possibly be an inverse relationship between economic development and some factors such as personal security or a clean environment. Challenging narrow economic measurements has been advocated by expert governmental commissioned panels. For example, in the report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, commissioned by then president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, the authors state that ‘a … unifying theme of the report … is that the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being’ (Stiglitz et al., 2009). Reporting in 2009, this Commission identified eight components of well-being: material living standards; health; education; personal activities including work; political voice and governance; social connections and relationships; environment; and security (both economic and physical).

Just as monetary measures of macro performance are inadequate measures of performance, individual and household income is an inadequate measure of individual well-being, fuelling a growing interest in quality of life measures. The quality of life concept has three principal characteristics (Shucksmith et al., 2009): it focuses on an individual’s perceptions of their life situations rather than a nation’s quality of life; it is multidimensional, covering multiple life domains and their interplay; and it brings together objective information on living conditions with subjective views and attitudes to provide a picture of overall well-being in society. Since the late 2000s, extensive studies of quality of life and a new ‘happiness’ literature has emerged employing data from surveys as empirical approximations of individual well-being (e.g. Layard, 2010; Moro et al., 2008; Oswald & Wu, 2010). Primarily associated with the work of psychologists and economists, studies of individual well-being increasingly measure subjective well-being, concerning people’s self-reported assessment of their own well-being. As outlined by Tinkler and Hicks (2011), survey questions of this nature aim to capture an individual’s well-being by measuring how people think and feel, for example by asking about their life satisfaction, happiness and psychological well-being. What makes the questions subjective is that the questions ask respondents to rate their feelings rather than recall factual information, enabling respondents to assess quality of life in their own terms. This approach is in contrast to the more traditional approach which uses objective indicators such as level of educational attainment, health and employment to determine well-being (Office for National Statistics, 2010).

However, the growing emphasis on measuring subjective well-being has not been without criticism. For example, Brereton et al. (2011) highlight the complex relationships between objective and subjective indicators of quality of life. This theme is elaborated further by Austin (2018) in relation to the 2008/09 economic crisis in the UK. Austin identifies the material impacts of the economic crisis, illustrating negative consequences for employment, income, education and health outcomes. However, Austin also observes that over this post-crash period, measures of subjective well-being remained largely unchanged, with similar levels of individual self-reported life satisfaction scores pre- and post-crisis being reported, with no significant variation at the population level or within income groups. This is explained as potentially relating to a downsizing of expectations across the population in the wake of the crisis.

Similar issues of ‘adjusting expectations’ were observed in a series of Irish surveys on life satisfaction undertaken in 2001, 2007 and 2012 (the latter two, author-led) (see Brereton et al., 2011; Murphy & Scott, 2014), which proved to be particularly important in the context of the dispersed nature of the rural settlement system and subjective well-being. Applying a similar methodology, these surveys illustrate little variation in life satisfaction among the rural population during the so-called Celtic Tiger boom and following the 2008/09 economic crash, despite a severe contraction of the rural economy, rising levels of unemployment and emigration and widespread negative equity and mortgage stress as the Irish crisis centred on a bursting of its housing bubble (a consequence of the oversupply of housing in rural areas through weak planning regulation). Moreover, the 2001 and 2007 surveys also compared life satisfaction across rural and urban areas, reporting higher life satisfaction scores among rural households than their urban counterparts. As Brereton et al. (2011) observed, this related to lower expectations within rural communities with regard to service provision (particularly health services) and a greater reliance on family networks for welfare support to mitigate limited access to services.

A key issue raised in the Irish case relates to rural settlement patterns and potential trade-offs between individual self-reported well-being and wider sustainability measures. The traditional settlement pattern in rural Ireland reflects a longstanding cultural preference for a house in the open countryside (Figure 7.1) rather than within villages or small towns. Single detached (‘one-off’) houses in the open countryside comprise approximately 70 per cent of rural dwellings, with the remainder of dwellings located in rural clusters, villages or small rural towns (Keaveney, 2007). These ‘one-off’ houses totalled 442,699 rural dwelling units or 26 per cent of Ireland’s housing stock in 2016. Survey results show that rural respondents living in the open countryside are more satisfied with their lives than those living in villages and small towns (and larger settlements as well), with respondents citing the peace and quiet of rural living as the most highly valued aspect of their housing preferences, which compensates for limited access to services (Brereton et al., 2011). Furthermore, the availability of a ‘bigger and cheaper house’ in the open countryside was viewed as a key benefit to rural living, with rural dwellers prepared to endure longer commutes to work and fewer local facilities in exchange for a large, affordable rural property. Later work, by Scott et al. (2017), additionally concluded that the preference for living in the open countryside in Ireland was closely related to the presence of family networks in a locality, reinforcing the importance of social capital (rather than services or state welfare) as a key household support.

From a planning perspective, these preferences and high levels of self-reported individual life satisfaction raise challenges for rural sustainability. For example, dispersed rural living is largely car dependent, poses potential risks to groundwater quality (through reliance on individual sewerage systems and septic tanks) and negatively impacts on rural landscapes. And while rural residents may express high life satisfaction scores, it may mask the experiences of those unable to access rural housing, for example, through displacement caused by new affluent incomers. Moreover, a continuation of dispersed settlement patterns has implications in the context of an ageing rural society (for example, accessing health services or social care at home) and poses potential barriers in relation to transitioning to a low-carbon society through locked-in car dependency. This example, therefore, illustrates the deficiency of focusing on measuring individual well-being in relation to spatial planning outcomes – it captures private benefits without assessing potential costs and is limited in assessing sustainable well-being for future generations in relation to the erosion of essential natural systems.

The deficits of conventional economic indicators and the limitations of an individual life satisfaction approach has prompted interest in broader place-based measures of development success, with well-being implying a positive relationship between people and places and therefore a necessary emphasis on environmental or natural capital (Carlisle et al., 2009; Drescher, 2014). New Zealand, for example, has developed a novel Living Standards Framework (The Treasury, 2018) comprising measures of current well-being along with indicators of future well-being (focused on natural capital, social capital, human capital and financial capital) to provide a dynamic measurement tool. These indicators are captured on the New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Dashboard to provide a ‘real-time’ platform for capturing social progress beyond narrow economic competitiveness indicators.

Spatial planning and well-being outcomes

Influenced by these wider policy debates and also the mainstreaming of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Habitat III goals, spatial planners are increasingly exploring well-being as a key outcome of planning practice (Shekhar et al., 2019). This has led to a growing interest in evaluating well-being and its broad domains as an outcome of spatial plans and planning decision-making. For example, a recent European Spatial Observatory Network (ESPON) -sponsored report, Quality of Life Measurements and Methodology (Sessa et al., 2020), attempts to develop a territorial framework for measuring quality of life applied to spatial contexts, with potential application for monitoring the outcomes of spatial plans and as an evaluative tool to assess the potential territorial impacts of sectoral policies.

In relation to its conceptual model, the report draws on Amartya Sen’s (1992) capabilities model to move beyond a simple focus on distribution of territorial ‘goods’ to examine how those distributions affect well-being and how we ‘function’. The emphasis, instead, is on ‘capabilities’ – on individual agency, functioning and well-being – to examine what environmental or territorial ‘goods’ do for us rather than simply focusing on their distribution (Schlosberg, 2007). Thus, territorial quality of life is defined as ‘the capability of living beings to survive and flourish in a place, thanks to the economic, social and ecological conditions that support life in that place’ (Sessa et al., 2020, p. 9). The model comprises three spheres – personal, socio-economic and ecological – and three quality of life dimensions – ‘Good Life’ enablers, life survival (‘maintenance’) and life flourishing, with these latter two dimensions representing territorial quality of life outcomes. To further elaborate on these outcome indicators, the report’s authors espouse a deliberative approach to engage citizens, experts and policymakers in co-deciding what, why and how territorial quality of life should be measured, emphasising a citizen-centric and place-specific approach. In other words, developing measures of well-being should be bottom-up, citizen engaged and place sensitive. Furthermore, the report recommends that territorial quality of life dashboards should be developed and utilised to provide real-time monitoring of outcomes as part of a territorial quality of life accounting process.

A further example of measuring quality of life derived from spatial planning interventions is the UK Royal Town Planning Institute’s recently published Measuring What Matters report and toolkit (Kevin Murray Associates et al., 2020) as an evaluative framework and methodology. The framework is based on assessing outcomes across eight key domains: (1) place – design and people; (2) health and well-being; (3) environment – conservation and improvement; (4) climate change; (5) homes and communities; (6) economy and town centres; (7) movement; and (8) process and engagement. While these domains appear equally applicable across different spatial contexts – urban, suburban, rural – the elaboration of these domains into practice examples reveals a bias towards or emphasis on shaping urban places, such as urban design interventions to support physical well-being or the virtues of a ‘ 15-minute neighbourhood’ ideal, which lacks transferability to more dispersed rural settlement systems.

In addition to an urban emphasis, a further limitation of toolkits along these lines is their focus on measuring specific quality of life indicators but with a more limited understanding of the complex interrelationships between these different domains or the specific ways (cause and effect) that interventions lead to well-being outcomes. Thus, the focus is on measurement and monitoring of specific outcomes; however, there is a deficit in understanding how spatial planning interventions or decision-making can enhance or erode well-being and quality of life. In what ways can spatial planning be an enabling factor in enhancing rural well-being or enhance societal well-being inclusive of rural places?

To address these deficits, Gkartzios et al. (2022) developed a ‘capitals framework’ as a means of assessing the role of spatial planning in contributing to enhancing well-being in rural places, adapted in Table 7.1 to emphasise quality of life outcomes. Focusing on domains relevant to spatial planning (rather than broad-brush rural policy), we identify four fundamental domains or capitals: (1) built capital, (2) economic capital, (3) land-based capital and (4) social-cultural capital, with each capital comprising key rural assets, resources or infrastructures. Illustrative examples include:

  • Built Capital: economic infrastructures (e.g. workspace, retail facilities); nature-based infrastructures critical to settlement systems; social-cultural infrastructures (e.g. housing, community facilities)
  • Economic capital: physical productive infrastructures (e.g. land assets); entrepreneurial infrastructure (e.g. business links, value chains); community wealth-building capacity
  • Land-based capital: land as a socially productive asset; landscape (e.g. tangible and intangible heritage); nature-based infrastructures (e.g. natural processes, ecosystem services)
  • Social-cultural capital: social networks; community capacity and active citizenship; inclusive places; creativity and cultural practices

The framework is based on a Bourdieu-inspired understanding of different forms of capital and their interrelationships. So while Bourdieu (1986) refers to economic capital as material assets that are ‘immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the form of property rights’ (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 242), key to Bourdieu’s analysis was his observation that other forms of capital (social and cultural) can be convertible to economic capital through enabling processes, such as education or social obligations or connections. Moreover, economic capital afforded opportunities for developing or acquiring further stocks of social and cultural capital, providing a positive feedback loop, suggesting that the complex interplay of economic, social and cultural capital could be mutually reinforcing. Understanding this complex interplay between different forms of capital is critical in understanding development and well-being outcomes across rural space. Moreover, Gkartzios et al. (2022) argue that spatial planning has the potential to play a critical role as a conversion factor through a reappraisal of the rural resource base, through creating mutually reinforcing relationships between the various forms of capital, and ensuring stocks of capital are reinvested.

Therefore, rather than focusing on measuring outcomes of well-being through an indicators-based approach, a capital framework provides a means for focusing on rural and community resources and assets, and evaluating the processes for mobilising those resources that have the potential to enhance or erode pathways to rural well-being. As outlined in Table 7.1, spatial planning potentially performs a critical role in relation to, inter alia, an area’s capacity to act, fostering collaboration and enhancing urban–rural relations.

If we revisit the four alternative rural planning logics considered at the beginning of this chapter – preservationist, developmentalist, laissez-faire and neoliberalised rural planning – the capitals framework for rural well-being illustrates the limitations of each approach. These four logics all lead to depleted resources or take approaches whereby planning interventions fail to reinvest or convert capital into other forms of capital, leading to contested development outcomes (a ‘countryside of discord’). For example, preservationist agendas tend to protect rural landscapes, but create exclusive places to live, undermining bridge-building social capital. Developmentalist agendas, as previously highlighted, are based on the extraction and depletion of natural capital, with consequences for potential flows of benefits from natural ecosystems, critical to well-being and a healthy planet. It emphasises wealth extraction, adding little to wealth creation among rural communities. The laissez-faire approach often favours the interests of dominant local elites, again eroding social capital through declining trust in local political institutions. Through deepening the ideology of the market, neoliberal agendas can undermine the capacity of local institutions to act, shrinking public services while favouring business interests rather than wider community wealth building or investing in social infrastructure.

An alternative is to plan for a countryside of well-being, focused on converting rural assets or capitals towards just outcomes, community wealth-building and prosperity, healthy and inclusive places and smart and resilient communities. Planning for rural places should be built on a clear understanding of the interdependencies between economic, social, cultural and environmental processes within rural localities. This suggests the need to consider the economic and social health of rural communities as important elements of sustainability alongside environmental aspects (Owen, 1996; Saxby et al., 2018) and for spatial plans to create mutually reinforcing relationships between environment and economy to bridge this limiting divide (Kitchen & Marsden, 2006). Adopting a capitals framework provides a means of thinking about, and reflecting upon, the elements that come together to make rural places.


Rural communities have too often been neglected or marginalised within planning theory and practice, with rural places framed in environmental (protection) or economic (extraction) terms. This chapter argues that the mainstreaming of well-being as a spatial planning goal has the potential to develop socially progressive rural planning policies, anchored in ‘place’ to emphasise the interconnectedness of various well-being domains. While subjective well-being measures provide a useful counterpoint to more traditional economic measures of ‘progress’, the chapter suggests the need for a broader place-sensitive perspective that takes into account a holistic range of rural ‘capitals’. Drawing on Gkartzios et al. (2022), this provides a framework for understanding the interrelationships, the potential for ‘conversion’ of one form of capital to other capitals, for intergenerational sustainability and well-being, and also how planning can play an enabling role in this process. Rather than provide a checklist of indicators focused on spatial planning outcomes, a more empowering process is to explore how rural communities themselves can mobilise place-based capitals to shape future development trajectories and well-being outcomes. This should be a matter for public deliberation and debate (and not expert prescription) (Shucksmith, 2018), with rural communities themselves best placed to identify priorities or to ‘work through’ their own visions of rural well-being.


Abercrombie, P. (1926). The preservation of rural England. Town Planning Review, 12(1), 5–56.
Allmendinger, P. (2016). Neoliberal spatial governance. New York: Routledge.
Austin, A. (2018). Well-being and social justice: In defence of the capabilities approach. In I. Bache & K. Scott (Eds), The politics of wellbeing: Theory, policy and practice (pp. 49–70). Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Bache, I., & Scott, K. (Eds) (2018). The politics of wellbeing: Theory, policy and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Baker, S., & Parker, G. (2018). Permitted development rights liberalisation in rural England: Love’s labour’s lost? Town and Country Planning, 87(3), 117–123.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Brereton, F., Bullock, C. Clinch, P., & Scott, M. (2011). Rural change, quality of life and individual well-being. European Urban and Regional Studies, 18, 203–227.
Carlisle, S., Henderson, G., & Hanlon, P. W. (2009). ‘Wellbeing’: A collateral casualty of modernity? Social Science and Medicine, 69(10), 1556–1560.
Curry, N., & Owen, S. (2009). Rural planning in England: A critique of current policy. Town Planning Review, 80(6), 575–597.
Daniels, T. (2019). Market-based instruments and rural planning in America. In M. Scott, N. Gallent, & M. Gkartzios (Eds), The Routledge companion to rural planning (pp. 125–134). London: Routledge.
Defra (2015). Towards a one nation economy: A 10-point plan for boosting rural productivity. London: Defra.
Drescher, M. (2014). What is it like to take care of the land? Toward an understanding of private land conservation. Rural Society, 23(2), 117–132.
Erikson, R. (1993). Descriptions of inequality: The Swedish approach to welfare research. In M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (Eds), The quality of life (pp. 67–83). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Faulkner, J. P., Murphy, E., & Scott, M. (2019). Rural household vulnerability a decade after the great financial crisis. Journal of Rural Studies, 72, 240–251.
Fox-Rogers, L. (2019). Clientelism, corruption and legitimacy in rural planning. In M. Scott, N. Gallent, & M. Gkartzios (Eds), The Routledge companion to rural planning (pp. 125–134). London: Routledge.
Fox-Rogers, L., & Murphy, E. (2015). From brown envelopes to community benefits: The co-option of planning gain agreements under deepening neoliberalism. Geoforum, 67, 41–50.
Gallent, N., Shucksmith, M., & Tewdwr-Jones, M. (2003). Housing in the European countryside: Rural pressure and policy in Western Europe. London: Routledge.
Gkartzios, M., Gallent, N., & Scott, M. (2022). Rural places and planning: Stories from the global countryside. Bristol: Policy Press.
Gkartzios, M., & Norris, M. (2011). ‘If you build it, they will come’: Governing property-led rural regeneration in Ireland. Land Use Policy, 28(3), 486–494.
Gkartzios, M., & Scott, M. (2014). Placing housing in rural development: Exogenous, endogenous and neo-endogenous approaches. Sociologia Ruralis, 54(3), 241–265.
Healey, P. (2010). Making better places: The planning project in the twenty-first century. London: Red Globe Press.
Keaveney, K. (2007). Contested ruralities: Housing in the Irish countryside. Teagasc Project No: 5164. Retrieved 29 March 2021 from
Kevin Murray Associates, Cardiff University, MacCabe Durney Barnes, University of Dundee and Yellow Book. (2020). Measuring what matters: Planning outcomes research report. London: RTPI.
Kitchen, L., & Marsden, T. (2006). Assessing the eco-economy of rural Wales. Research Paper No 11. Cardiff: Wales Rural Observatory.
Kitchen, L., & Marsden, T. (2009). Creating sustainable rural development through stimulating the eco-economy: Beyond the eco-economic paradox?. Sociologia Ruralis, 49(3), 273–294.
Lapping, M. B. (2006). Rural policy and planning. In P. Cloke, T. Marsden, & P. Mooney (Eds), Handbook of rural studies (pp. 104–122). London: Sage.
Lapping, M. B., & Scott, M. (2019). The evolution of rural planning in the Global North. In M. Scott, N. Gallent, & M. Gkartzios (Eds), The Routledge companion to rural planning (pp. 28–45). London: Routledge.
Layard, R. (2010). Measuring subjective well-being. Science, 327(5965), 534.
Moro, M., Brereton, F., Ferreira, S., & Clinch, J. P. (2008). Ranking quality of life using subjective well-being data. Ecological Economics, 65, 448–460.
Murdoch, J., Lowe, P., Ward, N., & Marsden, T. (2003). The differentiated countryside. London: Routledge.
Murphy, E., & Scott, M. (2014). ‘After the crash’: Life satisfaction, everyday financial practices and rural households in post Celtic Tiger Ireland. Journal of Rural Studies, 34, 37–49.
Natarajan, L. (2019). Major wind energy and the interface of policy and regulation: A study of Welsh NSIPs. Planning Practice & Research, 34(1), 1–17.
Office for National Statistics. (2010). Spotlight on subjective well-being.
Oswald, A., & Wu, S. (2010). Objective confirmation of subjective measures of human well-being: Evidence from the USA. Science, 327(5965), 576–579.
Owen, S. (1996). Sustainability and rural settlement planning. Planning Practice and Research, 11, 37–47.
Parker, G., Lynn, T., & Wargent, M. (2017). Contestation and conservatism in neighbourhood planning in England: Reconciling agonism and collaboration? Planning Theory & Practice, 18(3), 446–465.
Parker, G., Wargent, M., Linovski, O., Schoneboom, A., Gunn, S., Slade, D., et al. (2020). The future of the planning profession. Planning Theory & Practice, 21(3), 453–480.
Peck, J., & Tickell, A. (2002). Neoliberalizing space. Antipode, 34(3), 380–404.
Saxby, H., Gkartzios, M., & Scott, K. (2018). ‘Farming on the edge’: Wellbeing and participation in agri-environmental schemes. Sociologia Ruralis, 58(2), 392–411.
Schlosberg, D. (2007). Defining environmental justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Scott, M., Murphy, E., & Gkartzios, M. (2017). Placing ‘home’ and ‘family’ in rural residential mobilities. Sociologia Ruralis, 57, 598–621.
Sen, A. (1992). Inequality re-examined. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Sessa, C., Galvini, G., Biosca, O., del Castillo, H., Ulied, A., Tödtling-Schönhofer, H., et al. (2020). ESPON QoL – Quality of life measurements and methodology – Final report. Luxembourg: ESPON.
Shekhar, H., Schmidt, A. J., & Wehling, H. W. (2019). Exploring wellbeing in human settlements – A spatial planning perspective. Habitat International, 87, 66–74.
Shucksmith, M. (2018). Re-imagining the rural: From rural idyll to good countryside. Journal of Rural Studies, 59, 163–172.
Shucksmith, M., Cameron, S., Merridew, T., & Pichler, F. (2009). Urban–rural differences in quality of life across the European Union. Regional Studies, 43, 1275–1289.
Stiglitz, J., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J.-P. (2009). Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Retrieved September 2021 from
The Treasury. (2018). Our people, our country, our future. Living standards framework. Wellington: New Zealand Treasury.
Tinkler, L., & Hicks, S. (2011). Measuring subjective well-being. London: Office for National Statistics.
Tonts, M. (2020). Developmentalism, path dependence and multifunctionality: Reflections on Australian rural planning cultures. Planning Theory & Practice, 21(5), 776–782.
United Nations. (1954). International definition and measurement of standards and levels of living. New York: United Nations Publications.
  • Collapse
  • Expand

All of MUP's digital content including Open Access books and journals is now available on manchesterhive.



All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 3 3 0
Full Text Views 485 484 60
PDF Downloads 390 390 20