Brexit hurdles to keep countryside a place for us all

Countryside areas risk becoming "enclaves of the affluent" without Government action on affordable housing and local services, the Rural Coalition has warned. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Countryside areas risk becoming "enclaves of the affluent" without Government action on affordable housing and local services, the Rural Coalition has warned. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
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Countryside communities risk becoming “enclaves of the affluent” unless government action is taken to address a severe dearth of affordable housing and local services, an influential coalition has warned.

As the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union, Ministers are today being told to recognise that diverse business sectors and communities face being squeezed out of the debate.

For too long, rural people and businesses have been left behind and sidelined in the national political debate.

Margaret Clark, chairwoman of the Rural Coalition.

The 12 organisations of the Rural Coalition demand that all negotiations, post-Brexit policies and funding is “rural-proofed” to secure a fair deal for the 9m-plus people living in the countryside who risk being left behind.

It said future policies must meet the needs of communities, such as dealing effectively with the loss of EU grants but the Government deliver policy that enables a meaningful rise the “dispiritingly low” number of affordable rural housing being built and must take austerity cuts to local services into account.

The coalition is made up of groups including the National Farmers’ Union, the Country Land and Business Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Town and Country Planning Association.

Its president, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said: “England’s glorious countryside brings great joy to many people. It would be a great shame, however, if only the affluent are able to live in rural areas in the future because of a lack of long-term thinking.

“No population in this country should feel left behind, and it is time for policymakers to work together to create a living, working countryside and give rural communities a sustainable future.”

The Coalition wants an ambitious annual target for the number of affordable homes built in rural areas and a dedicated rural affordable housing programme.

Ministers must also deliver a support programme for rural businesses and community entrepreneurs, ensure the extra costs of delivering services in rural areas are reflected in funding formulas, and provide a comprehensive community infrastructure support programme.

Margaret Clark, chairwoman of the Rural Coalition, said: “The Government must recognise that rural England is not just about farming and the environment, and address the very real challenges facing those who live and work in our smaller towns and villages.

“For too long, rural people and businesses have been left behind and sidelined in the national political debate. It is time for Government departments to up their rural-proofing game to achieve a Brexit deal and domestic policy agenda that works for rural communities.”

Leah Swain, chief executive of Community First Yorkshire, said: “Getting more affordable housing into rural villages is absolutely essential if young people are to be able to remain living near family, and older people are able to downsize to smaller homes, yet stay close to the community that cares about them.

“We are championing community led housing schemes as a solution. A community can build and own its own rented properties in perpetuity – providing local homes for local people, and a long term income to meet the wider needs of all residents.

“To inspire, mobilise and support communities to build their own homes, take on ownership of the local pub or shop, or think innovatively about providing local social care as a response to local authority cuts can produce fantastic results. But it does require a range of support to be made available to the voluntary and communities groups and volunteers taking on those challenges.

“We support the call for the government, and other funders such as the Big Lottery, to think again about how they support those organisations that in turn support local community action.”

Many of the issues highlighted in the Coalition’s statement affect people in the Yorkshire Dale, said Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, who added: “We are particularly pleased to see their focus on the need for more affordable housing for local people in rural areas. The policies in our newly adopted Local Plan are aimed at achieving exactly that.”

He said the Authority was also looking for solutions from within by working with partners to update the Park’s management plan.