A commission tasked with tackling rural decline has called on farmers to help to shape a long-term vision for the future of the agricultural industry and help sustain beleaguered countryside communities.
The independent panel of experts is looking at a host of economic and social problems in North Yorkshire and its members have today announced that they are starting their work by analysing the role of farming and the environment.
-> Warning of affordable rural homes time-bomb as retirement moves up farming agenda
The Rural Commission, which was established by North Yorkshire County Council, is the first of its kind in the country, and will spend the next eight months collecting evidence before drawing up a series of recommendations.
The commission’s chairman, the Dean of Ripon, John Dobson, called on the farming community to identify key issues and come forward with suggestions to help draw up a strategy for the next 30 years.
He added: “Farming and the pressures on our agricultural businesses, as well as the environment they are working in, are the topics of the moment and our decision to examine them first reflects this.
“We are very much in listening mode and want therefore to hear from farmers, local residents and businesses on those issues they believe the commission needs to consider.
“We will be listening carefully to a broad range of views and considering the evidence so that later next year we can pull this baseline together and make meaningful recommendations on a vision for the future.”
-> Shared rural network to boost 4G mobile connections 'is a game-changer for North Yorkshire'
The commission was launched on Tuesday last week, and the decision to focus on agriculture and the environment as the first topic was made at its first meeting.
A wide range of other issues will be looked at over the next eight months, including transport, digital connectivity, housing, education and training as well as the economy and jobs.
A total of 85 per cent of North Yorkshire, which is England’s largest county, is classed as very rural. The county’s population density is five times below the national average, with just 76 people per square mile compared to 430, the average across England.
North Yorkshire has more rural schools than anywhere else in England and the county council has launched a campaign for a fairer funding formula. However, eight schools have shut in the past three years and many more have major financial pressures.
Affordable housing is limited, and data from the National Housing Federation shows the average cost of a home in Hambleton, for instance, is £263,829, while the average salary is just £26,723.
-> How the Kemps make a success of running 2 farms - 50 miles apart
The commission will be aided by district council leaders, the National Park authorities covering the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors and the North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.