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Lib Dems unveil 'Countryside Charter'

THE Liberal Democrats have set out a package of measures they claim will help rural communities thrive.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg unveiled the Countryside Charter on Tuesday (21 April).

     See also: Political manifestos under scrutiny

The document includes measures to improve high speed internet provisions in rural areas, keep local services open and secure the future of the farming industry.

The Lib Dems claim its measure will create more than 300,000 jobs and ensure rural people have access to the facilities they need to prosper.

Mr Clegg said: "Rural areas play a large part in Britain's economy with the rural economy worth £210bn."

He added: "The Liberal Democrats want to unlock this potential so rural areas and the rest of the UK can thrive."

The charter includes plans to:

* Close the gap between urban and rural areas in high speed broadband and internet provision
* Give rural firms the transport infrastructure to grow and compete in global markets
* Secure the future of the farming industry
* Keep essential local services and facilities open
* Boost rural tourism
* Help rural businesses grow and expand by continuing to improve the planning system
* Prioritise rural housing
* Help young people in rural areas develop their skills
* Make rural communities safer
* Support fishing communities

The charter proposes to give local authorities the power to double council tax on second homes in a bid to stop houses becoming too expensive for local people.

It commits the Lib Dems to extending the 5p per litre discount on fuel to more remote areas.

Also included is a commitment to rolling out high-speed broadband to 99.9% of households across the UK, closing the availability gap between rural and urban areas.

The party says it wants to introduce a rural bus protection fund to maintain transport services that are not necessarily profitable, but are relied upon by people in remote areas.

And it plans to introduce retained police officers, who are fully-trained police officers on call and able to respond quickly where needed.

Mr Clegg said: "In order to prosper, rural areas need good local services, appropriate infrastructure and more housing."

Only the Liberal Democrats would create a stronger economy and fairer society where everyone and every part of the UK could reach its full potential, he claimed.

But manifestos published by other political parties also pledge measures to benefit rural communities.

A full Rural Services Network analysis of all the main party manifestos is available here.


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