Countryside 'needs strong leadership' to tackle glaring inequalities, says head of rural commission

The head of a landmark rural commission has called for greater devolved powers to be assumed by Yorkshire’s political leaders to tackle the glaring inequalities in countryside communities.

Rural parts of Yorkshire are facing a plethora of challenges from a lack of affordable housing to poor infrastructure and connectivity and the closure of key facilities including schools, pubs and village stores.

The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson, has told The Yorkshire Post that more needs to be done to provide greater autonomy in the region and across the country to help build back the rural economy.

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His comments come as members of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission are considering evidence for their long-anticipated report that is due to be published this summer.

The Dean of Ripon, John Dobson

The rural commission was launched in November 2019 to help tackle a host of issues ranging from skills and education to boosting infrastructure and connectivity as well as helping shape the future of farming.

The Very Rev Dobson said: “It is so important that the countryside has strong leadership. Community at local, regional and national levels cannot flourish without strong leadership.

“Our hope is that the commission will be able to add a voice to that strong leadership to help with every part of the region, which will then benefit the nation as a whole.

“Devolution is key to that, to help achieve a collective wisdom operating at a local level and making the decisions that actually benefit both urban and rural communities together.”

Plans are currently underway for a huge re-organisation of local government in North Yorkshire which is seen as key to ensure Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda becomes a reality.

Two rival bids have been submitted to Westminster for the biggest overhaul of North Yorkshire’s local government structure in a generation which is set to pave the way for a multi-million pound devolution deal.

North Yorkshire County Council is behind plans for a single unitary authority, while the seven district councils are proposing two east/west authorities either side of the A1.

The Government announced plans for a devolution deal for North Yorkshire in July last year, with the caveat that the current structure of the county council and seven district councils is replaced with a unitary authority.

The Very Rev Dobson said: “The evidence we have received from all the spheres is that there seems to be less local influence in the countryside. There is a wealth of evidence that there needs to be greater devolved powers to allow all communities to benefit.”

The Government has confirmed that it is considering the two proposals submitted by councils in North Yorkshire for local government reorganisation after a consultation came to an end last month.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government stressed Ministers are committed to “levelling up and empowering our regions by devolving money, resources and control away from Westminster”.

She also claimed a series of schemes including the £3.6bn Towns Fund, the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, the £220m Community Renewal Fund and eight new Freeports will “support and regenerate” communities across the North, including rural areas.