Mixed reaction to Rural Statement

RURAL leaders have given a mixed reaction to the government's Rural Statement.

Published by Defra, the statement outlines the government's rural policies and commitment to the countryside.

A copy of the document can be downloaded here.

The Rural Coalition, which represents 15 rural organisations, said it welcomed the statement – but warned that success would depend on continued buy-in across Whitehall.

The statement reinforced DEFRA's position as a strong rural champion within government, it said.

The renewed commitment that the statement gave to rural proofing across all the Government's work, was particularly welcome. So too was the "buy-in" from across Whitehall.

Coalition chairman Lord Robin Teverson said: "The fact that one of Owen Paterson's first acts as Secretary of State has been to launch this Rural Statement is an excellent sign for the future of rural areas.

"His big challenge now is to keep all Whitehall departments, beyond DEFRA, committed to the rural cause. Their individual buy-in to this statement is encouraging.

The coalition was particularly pleased to see the commitment given to the regular monitoring of progress.

"One of our fears since departmental reorganisations and the bonfire of quangos has been the fragmentation and loss of rural data. The Statement makes it clear that keeping that database will be a core role of the Rural Communities Policy Unit."

Data would be essential to show whether the good intentions of government really were delivered.

"Indeed, for the proposals within the Rural Statement to be implemented effectively it will be necessary for ministers to harness the energy of the broad range of bodies that champion rural interests."

The coalition is made up of leading national organisations which represent rural interests.

Members together represent a unique mix of national rural stakeholder views and share a desire to see effective government policy for promoting both challenges and opportunities in England's rural areas.

The County Councils Network said the government's pilot Rural Growth Networks remained a welcome development but it continued to support the extension of the 'city deals' model to different economic geographies to drive growth across all communities.

Neil Sinden, policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "It is encouraging to see the statement makes clear that all of Government and not just the 'rural department' have responsibility for the countryside.

"We support and welcome ministers' commitment to improving opportunities for walking and cycling in the countryside and to making sure there is sufficient rural affordable housing. We would really like to see more genuine action in these areas.

"However, as with much of current government thinking, the statement is limited by its assumption that economic development is unrelated to the natural environment."

Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, said the charity was extremely disappointed to see no mention of the vital role that the natural environment and agri-environment schemes have to play.

"Rural businesses are uniquely connected with, and often dependant on, the environmental quality of their surroundings."

The RSPB wanted to see is a strong commitment from Defra secretary Owen Paterson that agri-environment would remain the beating heart of England's next Rural Development Programme.


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