In what is believed to be a pioneering new approach by a local authority, a diverse panel of independent rural experts came together for the first time this week to kickstart a Rural Commission aimed at getting to the crux of the many challenges that threaten the sustainability of life in the countryside.
As reported in The Yorkshire Post, North Yorkshire County Council has appointed a group of commissioners to scrutinise the issues that are damaging rural communities. When I spoke to Martin Booth, a community worker based in Hudswell who is one of the commissioners, he said he was confident that the panel would come up with “significant” recommendations that could stir the county council into developing more effective policies that could, if successful, provide a template for other rural counties in England to work from.
It was timely then that this same week, a new report was published about a lack of affordable housing in rural areas.
The report points out that the scarcity and expense of housing in the countryside is a crucial barrier when farmers retire and therefore stepping down is not seen as an option - aside from the emotional connection to a place where the farmer has often lived and worked for decades.
It means there are farmers who continue to work despite the gradual onset of infirmity, putting their own health and safety at risk, while creating another barrier to next generation from stepping into farming.
The report - written by Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser to the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) for a consortium of the CAAV, University College of Estate Management (UCEM), The Prince’s Countryside Fund, The Royal Agricultural University and Northumbrian Water Group - warns the situation cannot perpetuate because post-Brexit change demands new approaches. An energetic, innovative and adaptable workforce is needed to ensure family farms survive, and younger generations are seen as having the greatest capacity to embrace the changes ahead.
It is thought that local planning authorities have a role to play in enabling this transition by helping to address the rural housing shortfall - and so this has to be an issue that the Rural Commission simply must consider as it sets out to influence how North Yorkshire responds to the defining challenges in the countryside today.