Hinterland - 16 December 2019

In the last Hinterland of the year can I wish you all Merry Christmas. I’m afraid there aren’t many laughs in this week’s edition unless you like dogs.... We cover falling quality of life expectations, village greens, threats to public service broadcasting, county farms, hospital waiting times and electoral dogs. Please read on.

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Children born now face longer period of ill health in old age

I can’t quite put my finger on the precise reason why, but it seems to me that we are in a process of exceptional decline, compared to the broad and linear improvements in living standards and decency over the more than half a century I have lived through. This story, bearing in mind that we have a higher proportion of older people in rural England than the national norm, suggests to me that over time rural places will become unsustainable for older people to live in. That is unless technology somehow enables us to overcome the challenges of living effectively in our own homes when we become frail. It tells us:

Children born today are likely to spend a larger proportion of their lives in poor health than their grandparents.

They will also benefit from substantially smaller increases in their life expectancy than those born just a few years earlier, in the first decade of the 21st century.

But new data from the Office for National Statistics has also shown that those aged 65 are seeing their healthy life expectancy increase: men in England and Wales aged 65 have gained 31.5 weeks of life, and 33.5 weeks of healthy life, since 2009. Women of the same age have gained 17.4 weeks of life and 23.3 weeks of healthy life over the same period.

In contrast, the proportion of life expected to be spent in good health in the UK has decreased between 2009-11 and 2016-18, from 79.9% to 79.5% for males and from 77.4% to 76.7% for females.


‘Village green’ land at risk after ruling by supreme court

I am not making a judgement on this specific case. I do however feel we should never pickle rural communities in aspic and that notions such as “village green” and “greenbelt” need to stay fluid and flexible if we are to re-discover a “living/working” countryside.  This story about the reversal of a village green application in Lancaster tells us:

Under the Commons Act 2006, land that has been used for informal recreation for at least 20 years by local people without challenge or permission can be registered as a village green. Once registered, it is protected from development.

Fears that the land might be built upon saw the Moorside Fields Community Group attempt to register the fields as a village green in 2008. The group won its case in the high court and the court of appeal. But the supreme court judgment, by a majority of three to two, has reversed the earlier decisions.

“This is a deeply worrying decision as it puts at risk countless publicly owned green spaces which local people have long enjoyed, but which, unknown to them, are held for purposes which are incompatible with recreational use,” said Nicola Hodgson, case officer for the Open Spaces Society, which campaigns for the protection of town and village greens. “We urgently need a change in the law to ensure our precious green spaces are protected.”

The county council, which owns the land, had objected on the grounds that the fields might be needed for the expansion of the local school. Some parents feared such a move would open up the school playing fields to the wider public, something that constituted a threat to pupil safety. Handing down its judgment in favour of the council, the court also quashed a separate attempt to grant three hectares of a wood in Surrey, owned by the NHS, village green status.

The ruling is a major setback for open space campaigners who have enjoyed mixed fortunes down the years. A House of Lords decision in 1999, approving the right of the village of Sunningwell in Oxfordshire to register a strip of land as a village green, saw similar applications mushroom across the country.

But the introduction of the Growth and Infrastructure Act in 2013 stipulated that land which had been subject to planning applications could not be granted village green status, staunching the flow of further registrations.

“This ruling reflects what’s going on at a broader level in our society,” Bebbington (local campaigner) said. “Every bit of green space has to be available for development because suddenly land is gold, especially to local authorities that don’t have any money. These spaces are community assets that help to keep us healthy and they are very important. They connect communities but they are taking them away from us.”


BBC: TV licence fee decriminalisation being considered

The BBC is the gold standard when it comes to local news. It connects millions of rural dwellers with vital information through local radio stations at times of crisis relating to bad weather and other unforeseen events. Lets hope there is no post election outpouring of doctrinaire political spite when it comes to the future of a national institution of crucial importance to every rural community. This article has raised my concerns, it tells us:

The government is to consider whether failure to pay the TV licence fee should cease to be a criminal offence, a Treasury minister has said.

Rishi Sunak confirmed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a review of the sanction for non-payment of the £154.50 charge, which funds the BBC.

Prosecution for non-payment of the fee can currently end in a court appearance and potential fine of up to £1,000.

But the BBC warned decriminalisation could cost it £200m a year.

The Sunday Telegraph reported the consultation had been ordered by the PM after the Conservatives won a majority of 80 at last week's election.

Asked whether non-payment of the fee should be decriminalised, Mr Sunak told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "That is something the prime minister has said we will look at, and has instructed people to look at that".

"I think it's fair to say people find the criminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee to be something that has provoked questions in the past," he said.


Half of council-owned farms have shut down, campaigners say as they call for rest to be protected

Its not the Councils that need to be chastened directly in the context of the future of their farms, its their agents, who have, in my experience, little regard to public good in the way they manage these assets. Any land agent appointed by a local authority to manage its farm estate should be forced to read the history of the Rural Development Commission. If they do that they will realise they are managing important community assets. This story tells us:

Half of all council-owned farms across England have been closed down, as campaigners say authorities could profit from selling their produce.

The farms, set up at the end of the 19th century to encourage young people into farming, are in "terminal decline", according to the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Now, cash-strapped councils are shutting them down, losing over 15,000 acres of farmland in the last decade, with 60 per cent of this sold off in the last two years.

This is despite the fact campaigners argue that they have a "huge potential to generate income, provide an opportunity to promote innovative farming methods and deliver environmentally sustainable farming" as well as being carbon sinks, tackling the climate emergency. 

A new report from CPRE done in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation, Shared Assets and Who Owns England shows  more than 50 per cent of county farm estates have disappeared over the past 40 years.


Waiting times for A&E and hospital operations worst on record, NHS figures show

As Christmas draws on there is very little cheer in this story, particularly as rural dwellers are often those with the least effective trusts. You will remember that the Nuffield Trust research identified that the 7 most rural acute trusts accounts for almost 25% of all the debt in the sector. This story tells us:

The NHS has seen one of its worst months on records with tens of thousands of patients waiting on trolleys for a bed as emergency departments reported unprecedented demand.

New data published on Friday showed a dire performance across a range of measures in November – before the worst of the winter has really started.

Almost 30 per cent of patients in major hospital A&E departments waited longer than four hours to be seen, a 10 per cent increase compared to the same month last year and the worst performance on record.

For the first time, not one major A&E department in England met the four-hour waiting-time target.

Across all A&E departments, 81 per cent of patients were seen within four hours, a record poor performance against the target of 95 per cent which hasn’t been met since July 2015.


And Finally

General Election 2019: The best photos of dogs at polling stations

Whatever your view of the outcome of Thursday last here is a story to make you smile. It tells us:

As polling stations opened on Thursday morning for what is being billed as Britain’s most important General Election in a generation, social media became awash with pictures of people’s pet dogs.

The tradition of taking photos of puppies obediently waiting for their owners to vote at polling stations is a trend that has taken the internet by storm in recent elections thanks to the #dogsatpollingstations hashtag.

And, while the third general election in five years has prompted much political exhaustion, it’s safe to say the viral trend is warming people’s hearts everywhere. 


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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