Friday, 11 September 2015 09:47

'Rise to rural challenge of devolution'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
'Rise to rural challenge of devolution'

England's rural communities are being urged to rise to the challenge of devolution and secure a sustainable future.

Rural challenges include supporting growth and overcoming barriers to infrastructure investment, said Neil Clarke, chairman of the District Councils Network.

"Devolution is not just about giving powers away it is about ensuring we get the extra benefits," Mr Clarke told the Rural Conference 2015 at the University of Gloucestershire.

More than 70 delegates gathered at the university's Park campus in Cheltenham for the conference, which was held on 8-9 September.

Four out of five councils believe infrastructure investment was a significant barrier to growth, Mr Clarke told listeners.

It was important that rural communities secured the same sort of investment that was being directed towards urban areas, he added.

"It is important that we campaign for that investment – that we make sure the funding that is going to core cities go to rural areas in equal measure."

Doing so would help the rural economy and help spur business growth in a way that would help rural communities maintain their vibrancy, said Mr Clarke.

Isolation was a key issue for rural communities – whether it was caused by a lack of transport, poor broadband connections or other challenges.

Other key rural issues included skills and employment, the cost of housing and pressure on community assets such as shops, pubs and meeting places.

"Those are big challenges that I am sure we are all familiar with."

One answer was for district councils to cluster together and work more closely togather.

Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, said devolution should not be seen as a "cities versus everywhere else" situation.

It was a chance for rural areas to take back some power from central government rather than repeatedly go back with a begging bowl asking for a fair share.

Presentations from the conference are being made available here. Transcripts of selected speeches will be uploaded and emailed to delegates over the coming fortnight.

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