We would also like to publicly acknowledge and thank the many people and organisations in North Yorkshire, and beyond, who gave valuable evidence to the North Yorkshire Rural Commission, and those who have subsequently provided positive and encouraging feedback on the Commission’s report.
In September 2019, North Yorkshire County Council established the Rural Commission and tasked the independent Commissioners with writing a report setting out specific actions to ensure a vibrant future for rural and remote areas of the county.
This is the first Commission and report of its kind. While it speaks to North Yorkshire, it also addresses many of the problems challenging the future of rural and remote Britain, from unaffordable housing to the missing generations of younger people and threatened obsolescence in all walks of rural life.
The Commission strongly urges the Government to ensure the levelling up debate not only focuses on Northern industrial regions, but also on remote and rural regions.
The debate must recognise the significant potential of rural and sparsely populated rural areas to contribute to the national economy, achieve net zero targets, and drive energy transitions.
Rural and remote Yorkshire has twice the number of retirees as the national average. The Commissioners calculated that, based on the national average, there should be an additional 45,551 people of working age in the county.
Assuming an average wage, this amounts to a loss of £1.5bn to the county’s economy. How can they be attracted back to ensure a future for rural and remote regions?
The Commission makes hard-hitting recommendations, setting out a plan for the county to lead on green employment, including food, farming, forestry and renewable energy.
We urge the Government to invest in an electricity structure that does not bypass rural and remote areas so that they do not get left behind in the energy transition in the same way as with digital connection. If the Government provides the essential electrical infrastructure, North Yorkshire can lead on the energy transition.
There has for decades been much hand wringing about affordable rural housing, yet the problem persists. The Commission urges working closely with communities and has urged each parish in the county with building five houses over the next 10 years.
This will provide an additional 3,650 houses, of which 40 per cent must be affordable or available for rental. Affordability is based on local wages, not inflated market prices.
Farming is facing a very significant transition. A more integrated approach to farming, land management and the environment is essential.
Working with nature will lead to more profitable farms, and the Government must recognise the family nature of farming and the role women play in progressive decisions on the farm.
The Commission urges increased support for rural super sparse secondary schools. We also advocate a pioneering two stream educational system post-GCSE in rural and remote areas, with one stream focusing on future-critical vocational education alongside an academic stream.
There is much talk about levelling up and shared prosperity funds, but there is little in the detail.
Our report specifies specific actions the Government must undertake to ensure vibrant rural and remote economies. This is not simply good for rural areas; it is an essential part of the overall economy.
North Yorkshire is at a crossroads. Beautiful and beloved, this rural county’s demographic and lifestyle trends threaten its future prosperity.
We hope our report is the start of a meaningful debate about how to achieve a sustainable future for rural North Yorkshire rural areas.
John Dobson is the Dean of Ripon Cathedral. He was chair of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission and is writing on behalf of his fellow rural commissioners – Martin Booth, Chris Clark, Jean MacQuarrie, Professor Sally Shorthall, Dr Debbie Trebilco and Sir William Worsley.
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