'Rural areas are Whitehall blind spot and need proper strategy', countryside councils says

Rural communities desperately need a rural strategy to underpin government policy, according to the Rural Services Network said. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Rural communities desperately need a rural strategy to underpin government policy, according to the Rural Services Network said. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Rural leaders have stepped up calls for a comprehensive rural strategy to be drawn up, with the Government accused of having a “blind spot” when it comes to countryside communities.

The country’s rural areas are disadvantaged in many ways, they said.

Public transport is on its knees with services “virtually non-existent” in many deep rural areas, while an uneven pattern of economic development has left young people in “broad swathes” of rural England with no prospect of finding work or buying a house.

The issues echo some of the concerns in the Yorkshire Dales, as documented by The Yorkshire Post’s recent Dales in Crisis series.

Citing Cornwall as an example of the pressures of demand for housing outstripping supply, the Rural Services Network said a typical rural affordable housing scheme had attracted 27 applicants for every unit.

Protected landscapes such as National Parks are attracting more visitors, yet there is little thought in public policy about the challenges of living and working in them, the Network said.

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Loneliness and its effects on health and well-being is on the rise as a result, and is heaping pressure on the sustainability of many rural communities, it warned.

The Network highlighted how Northern Ireland has a bigger government cash adjustment than England to cover additional rural costs of providing health services.

Amid mounting concerns, more than 120 representatives of rural local authorities and other rural service providers and countryside groups voted unanimously to strengthen calls for a rural strategy at the Network’s National Rural Conference in Gloucestershire this week.

At the meeting, Lord Don Foster, who chairs the Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy, said the Government had “a blind spot as far as rural areas were concerned”.

Coun Cecilia Motley, chair of the Rural Services Network, said: “The breadth and depth of the commitment from organisations from across all spectrums of the rural agenda for a rural strategy is massively borne out by the discussions and actions today.

“We have a wide body of grass roots support and in Parliament and other places.

“I hope on the strength of this that we will be able to convince Government to revisit its thinking and agree with us about the crucial importance of a national rural strategy.”

A government spokesman said: “We are working to make sure everyone living in England’s rural areas has the same opportunities as those in urban areas.

"Across Government, we are continuing to champion rural affairs, driving forward high-speed broadband in the most hard to reach areas, increasing housing availability and supporting the creation of more than 6,000 jobs through our dedicated fund for rural businesses.”

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