Helping rural Yorkshire will mean more than just planting trees, we must tackle the thorny issues, says Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard

Rural communities in Yorkshire and nationwide have been “overlooked and taken for granted for far too long”, the Shadow Environment Secretary has said.

Labour’s Luke Pollard described a “brain drain” from the countryside as he called for “a greater focus on rural communities” to tackle the “thorny issues” affecting them.

His comments come as the North Yorkshire Rural Commission published their landmark first report. One of the issues the commissioners raised was the lack of younger people living in the area, which has left an estimated £1.4bn gap in the local economy.

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The North Yorkshire Rural Commission has published its landmark first report. One of the issues the commissioners raised was the lack of younger people living in the area, which has left an estimated £1.4bn gap in the local economy.

Mr Pollard told the Yorkshire Post: “Rural communities matter but I think they’ve been overlooked and taken for granted for far too long. That means policy is often made for urban areas and then imposed on rural areas.

"That often doesn’t work, and if we are to genuinely build back better after the pandemic we've got to recognise that it’s about more than simply planting trees, that’s about addressing the structural inequalities that exist within society.

“I think that starts with recognising that living in the countryside is brilliant, we want to encourage more people to be able to stay where they grew up, but in order to do that we need to tackle some quite thorny issues: house prices being one of those, difficult in accessing public services especially with the closure of the last shop in the village, difficulty with accessing doctors surgeries and NHS dentists”.

Rural areas more generally are suffering because young people are being priced out of finding their way on to the housing ladder, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP Mr Pollard believes.

“I think there’s an urgency to this in our rural areas because I think our young people are being priced out of living in the areas where they grew up unless they want to stay with mum and dad.

“That means there’s brain drain from rural areas and a drive to cities. Cities are great places to live but people should choose to go there because they want to rather than because they’re being priced out of where they come from.”

The report also called for funding from the Government for significant devolved powers for the region, stressing the importance of decision making powers being moved away from London and put into the hands of local figureheads.

Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby Robert Goodwill has also voiced his support for a devolved leader in North Yorkshire.

He told the Yorkshire Post: "One of the frustrations of being a member of Parliament is that we don’t have a great deal of influence on things like health delivery. It all seems to be devolved to various commissioning bodies or hospital trusts.

“There isn’t a bottom level of democracy in that, and I’m hoping that if we have a directly elected mayor that will be the person for York and North Yorkshire who will be able to make the case to the Government for addressing some of these specific issues.”

Referencing directly back to local issues, the former Agriculture Minister added: “We have a lot of pensioners with bus passes in North Yorkshire who don’t have a bus they can get on for example.”

Speaking ahead of the report’s official release, Luke Pollard said the success of any document like this would be seen in “what action does it prompt” in looking at the “really big and thorny issues that need to be addressed”.

“Because at the moment I genuinely think that the Government is taking rural communities for granted”, he said.

“And if reports like this can focus attention on the incredible potential that rural communities have as well as some of the challenges then we stand a much better chance of actually addressing them.”