Monday, 16 August 2010 17:37

'Do or die' for rural England

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Rural services are likely to be slashed Rural services are likely to be slashed

RURAL services face meltdown as public spending is cut, a coalition of countryside groups has warned.

That is the bleak outlook for England’s countryside from the Rural Coalition, which has called on the government to help rural people shape the communities in which they live.

The coalition is supported by a number of bodies from across the private, public and charity sectors.

Members include Action with Communities in Rural England, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Country Land and Business Association, the Local Government Group, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association.

In a new report, the coalition has warned that radical action needed to secure a better future for the countryside and prevent rural villages from dying.

Billed as "a blueprint for the Big Society in small places" the report sets out detailed propositions for taking on five key challenges facing the countryside.

It focuses on meeting rural housing need, building thriving economies, delivering good rural services, creating flourishing market towns and empowering local communities.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Greater independence for local residents and councils to to local residents and councils to ensure that rural communities can continue to live and work
  • Scrapping plans for “referendums” on the government’s proposals for “Right to Build” which would require 90% community support before new, small-scale development can go ahead in villages.
  • Radical transformation of planning practice to give communities the lead in planning for thriving and sustainable new neighbourhoods when market towns need to grow.
  • The government to take proper account of the impact of public sector funding cuts on rural areas before finalising the Comprehensive Spending Review in October.
  • Town hall planners, local councils and communities freed to come up with innovative solutions to the rural affordable housing crisis.

The full document can be downloaded here.

The coalition's chairman is Matthew Taylor who, as MP for Truro and St Austell, authored the Taylor Review of affordable housing and rural economies in 2008.

"If the Government is serious about localism, it should rise to the challenge," said Lord Taylor.

"On its current course, with no change in policy and no commitment to action, much of the countryside is becoming part dormitory, part theme park and part retirement home."

The Rural Coalition believes the government's commitment to localism and the big society opens the door to reform.

But it warns there is a risk that spending cuts will fall heaviest on rural communities which may lose services altogether.

"For fifty years or more, policy has undervalued the countryside and failed to meet the needs of rural communities," Lord Taylor said.

"The result is starkly apparent: rural communities have become increasingly less sustainable and less self-sufficient."

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