Rural economies ‘ignored and underrated’ for too long

Rural communities and economies have been ‘ignored and underrated’ for too long, according to a group of peers.

In a new report, the House of Lords select committee on the rural economy calls on the government to create a national strategy to help solve many of the problems faced by people living in the countryside.

According to the report, rural communities face many significant challenges, including cuts to local authorities’ budgets, a lack of affordable housing, and an ageing population.

It also calls on councils and other public bodies to develop their own local rural strategies consistent with a national framework, and be responsible for their implementation.

The committee also recommends the government bring forward its consultation on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU regeneration grants after Brexit, as soon as possible.

In order to improve the lack of affordable housing in many rural areas, it recommends suspending the Right to Buy, or making it voluntary for local authorities in specific locations, to ensure that much-needed affordable housing is not lost where it would be difficult or impractical to replace it.

In January, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warned a ‘lack of focus’ on the housing needs of people in rural areas was fuelling a crisis in the countryside.

‘Rural communities and the economies in them have been ignored and underrated for too long,’ said committee chair, Lord Foster of Bath.

‘We must act now to reverse this trend, but we can no longer allow the clear inequalities between the urban and rural to continue unchecked. A rural strategy would address challenges and realise potential in struggling and under-performing areas, and allow vibrant and thriving areas to develop further. Doing nothing is not an option.’

Commenting on the peers’ report, the CPRE chief executive, Crispin Truman said: ‘Almost one fifth of England’s population live in rural areas, but a failure to address the unique and specific needs of these communities have put them at risk of being left behind. Shop and school closures, dwindling public transport and a shortage of affordable housing has left many people isolated and without access to vital services.

‘The best way to express the political will required to build thriving rural communities is through better funding for affordable housing, infrastructure and public services. By investing in and tackling these issues in a holistic way, we will enable our market towns and villages to flourish, making them attractive places to live, work in and visit for people of all ages.’

The full House of Lords committee report is available to read here.

Photo by Tim Hill (Pixabay)


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