Hinterland - Friday, 16 March, 2018

Rural broadband, parking fines, litter, house prices, dementia-friendly villages and a privately owned mountain all feature in Hinterland this week.

We are also gearing up for our speakers at the next RSN Regional Meeting in the North East on 25 May in Durham. The theme will be economic development.

Our first two meetings – in the West Midlands and South West – went very well, so you may want to pop this date in your diary as something to look forward to.


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Virgin Media expands fibre network to rural areas

I think this is more of a breakthrough than first meets the eye. The real challenge to good broadband in rural areas has been the lack of alternative networks. Some communities (most famously Cybermoor in Cumbria) responded to this by providing their own. If a big player like Virgin Media is now entering the stage that might over time become something of a positive game changer. This story tells us:

A local campaign, in conjunction with Virgin Media, has brought fibre broadband to rural communities in Hampshire.

Up to 4,000 residents in 12 villages in Test Valley and Dun Valley will be able to access “ultrafast” internet from late 2019.

Virgin says it is currently almost impossible for some residents and businesses to download or upload files.

The scheme will provide them with a 350Mbps connection.

In order for the network roll-out to be commercially viable, at least 30% of residents had to register their interest in having such a service.

The telecommunications provider also required at least 1,000 residents to commit to a broadband services contract.

The Financial Times reported each customer will face a £300 connection fee.

While Virgin Media is already active in other rural areas, until now it has done so by extending its existing urban operations. What makes the new scheme unique is that the network is being built from scratch.


As house prices fall, number of 95pc mortgages hits post-crisis high

I suspect the welcome fall in house prices reported here is mainly an urban phenomenon. I suspect it also leaves us with a still very long wait before the pace of house building really start to erode the iniquitous impact of a dearth of new housing on the availability of house in many rural places which people of modest means can either afford to rent or purchase. This story tells us:

The number of mortgages being offered for buyers with very small deposits has hit its highest level in 10 years.

According to data firm Moneyfacts, lenders introduced 37 new deals for borrowers with a deposit of only 5pc last month, bringing the total number beyond 300 for the first time since April 2008.

Before the crash, mortgages for 100pc, or even more, of a property’s value were common. Many were offered on an interest-only basis, meaning the capital was not being repaid, and many borrowers lost their homes when the markets collapsed.

The news comes on the same day data from estate agents Your Move suggested prices in London had fallen by 2.6pc in the past 12 months. Month-by-month prices were also down in the East of England region.

Falling house prices combined with rising borrowing will fuel fears homeowners could fall into negative equity – and risk being unable to remortgage.

But respected market expert Ray Boulger, of mortgage brokers John Charcol, said there should be no cause for alarm – even saying lenders should look to increase loan to values further.

“One of the biggest differences between now and 2008 is any high equity mortgages now need to be on a repayment basis,” he said. “While the regulations don’t ban this, the way they are structured means there needs to be a credible repayment plan, so offering interest-only at this level is very difficult.”


Charity Commission urges caution on community fundraising efforts after row over Blencathra campaign

Here is a messy tale of what goes wrong when the much vaunted social enterprise solutions to rural community challenges don’t prove quite so potent. It tells us:

The Charity Commission has urged caution over community fundraising efforts after a two-year battle between locals and a charity over funds donated to buy Blencathra.

Donors to the Friends of Blencathra charity, which hoped to buy the Cumbrian mountain from the eighth earl of Lonsdale, have until April 2 to reclaim their money after it was taken off the market.

The project descended into angry recriminations amid concerns that donors would not be repaid after the mountain was withdrawn from sale in 2016.

The Earl had put it on the market in 2014 with a guide price of £1.75m to help pay a £9m inheritance tax bill. 

But it was removed from sale in September 2016 after the charity failed to raise enough money to buy it.

An opposition group, “Friends of Blencathra please say no” was established on Facebook and donors lobbied the charity for their money back.

A refund process for £240,173 in donations began early last year after it was announced that the bid had failed, and the final claims period will end next month.

The charity has repaid £166,426 to donors and another £21,013 has been released by supporters to be used by other, similar causes.

Another £52,734 belongs to donors who could not be found or identified. Donations which are not reclaimed will be given to five conservation charities including Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, Mountain Heritage Trust and Friends of the Lake District.

Refunds have been deducted £6 to reflect the cost of admin.

Dave Wheeler, chair of Friends of Blencathra, said some of the outstanding donations were over £1,000, with the largest being around £2,500.

He said he was “fairly disappointed” that the bid had failed. “We got the pledges and offers of enough money to purchase it at market value and also to have a fairly good fund to set it up for five years of maintenance,” he told the Daily Telegraph.


Parking and bus lane fine appeals win four times out of 10

Another example of just how “broken” the whole process of local authorities relying on parking fines to prop up their general expenditure has become. There are some rural authorities in this top 10 list….

Almost half of drivers who challenged parking and bus lane fines issued by local authorities were successful, figures obtained by the BBC suggest.

Four out of 10 appeals to hundreds of councils across the UK over five years led to fines being cancelled.

Motoring group the RAC said the data was “frightening” and showed drivers were “right to appeal.”

The Local Government Association said the figures proved councils had an “effective” appeal process.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that out of almost 4.3 million appeals, 1.8 million succeeded.

They show 84 councils accepted more than half of challenges.

Basingstoke and Deane council overturned fines in 90% of appeals


Shops, cafes and round-the-clock care: life in a ‘dementia village’

We did some work last year looking at innovation in relation to supporting people with dementia in rural settings. We identified that the Netherlands were ahead of the curve. This article reveals some of that good practice coming here. It tells us

It will be a new community within a new neighbourhood. As part of the 4,000-home Mountfield Park development near Canterbury, Kent, there are plans to build a village that will have its own homes, shops and cafes. All of the residents will be people with dementia. It is being modelled on Hogeweyk, a dementia village near Amsterdam, whose inhabitants live in shared houses, have a supermarket, park cafe, cinema, village squares and gardens, as well as round-the-clock care if they need it. “What struck us was how unrecognisable the lives of those with dementia were at Hogeweyk compared with those I’ve met in England,” Simon Wright, the chief executive of developers Corinthian Land, told the Times.

“A lot of nursing homes are based on a medical approach,” says Frank van Dillen, co-founder of Dementia Village Advisors and one of the architects who designed Hogeweyk. “We try to de-institutionalise that approach because people want to live as normally as possible.” So there is care and medication, but also everyday activities: “You want to go to a restaurant, do your own grocery shopping, sit in a bar, walk outside and meet people.”


Litter Innovation Fund: Government backs new community projects

Does anyone remember the 1970s public information film with “Public Enemy number 1” the arch litter merchant? Well in the midst of all its diversions over Brexit its good to see that Defra can still focus on some of the most very important issues we face. This article tells us:

A range of innovative projects to tackle litter louts in local communities have been awarded funding by the government, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey has announced today (9 March 2018).

The first round of funding sees a number of councils, charities, businesses, and public projects awarded almost £125,000 to take innovative steps to tackle littering in their communities.

The successful projects include developing bins to prevent seagulls from scattering litter on beaches and working with river users to reduce plastic getting into rivers, helping to tackle the issue of litter getting into our marine environment.

The funding builds on the Government’s wider Litter Strategy for England, as well as the recent launch of the 25 Year Environment Plan setting out how Government will protect and enhance our natural environment.

Welcoming the new projects, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said:

We want to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it and these innovative new projects will help reduce the amount of litter which so often plagues our streets, parks, countryside, rivers and marine environment.

We have all seen the damaging effects that litter can have on wildlife and the environment, and I encourage people to do their bit, take responsibility for their litter and recycle more.

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