Sunday, 19 September 2010 09:25

"Vital need for faster rural growth

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Much of the region is sparsely populated Much of the region is sparsely populated

FASTER rural economic growth is vital to sustain countryside communities, says a report.

The warning is contained in a rural policy white paper for the East of England, unveiled by the East of England Rural Forum.

The document – which details a 10-year vision for the region’s rural areas – was published following extensive research.

It highlights the need for rural areas to support balanced and sustainable growth as a key issue.

“Rural areas should support a healthy demographic mix, provide opportunity for people to live and work locally,” says the document.

Rural economic growth is needed so the countryside can match an ongoing population increase with sustainable jobs in high value sectors.

To achieve this, the report calls for better broadband so rural people can use the internet to improve skills and access services.

It also calls on policy-makers to adopt a more positive approach to demographic change.

This should ensure that housing, services and economic opportunity allow rural people of all ages, backgrounds and skills to thrive.

The full document can be downloaded here.

Rural areas have seen a faster growth in knowledge-based businesses than urban areas, the report says.

The countryside has higher rates of self-employment but recent years have also seen a big increase in two-way commuting.

This means the countryside is increasingly home to highly-paid people who earn their living elsewhere.

At the same time, many lower paid rural workers are forced to live in towns and commute to the countryside to work.

The East of England is one of the fastest growing parts of the country.

Coupled with an increase in second homes, this has put real pressure on the supply of affordable housing.

Some rural coastal areas now having average house prices which are 10 times local average earnings.

“As the rural economy has changed many rural residents have moved into new careers,” says the report.

“But there are still many pockets of income deprivation and areas with low qualification levels.”

The dispersed nature and larger spread of wealth in rural communities means deprivation is often under-reported, the document warns.

Forum chairman Pat Holtom said stakeholders had repeatedly highlighted the issues of digital inclusion, economic growth and demographic change.

“Our view is that rural communities, their people, businesses and natural environment, are an essential part of the economic recovery of the country.”

Rural people had a tremendous contribution to make to a greener, prosperous and sustainable future.

But they needed to be more involved in shaping policies that affected the countryside.

This autumn, the forum would publish a detailed action plan outlining how this can be achieved.

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