They are warning that without this action, rural services face meltdown as spending is cut, housing will outprice all but the wealthiest, and rural wages will continue to lag as much as 20% behind urban averages
The Rural Coalition has published The Rural Challenge, a report outlining detailed proposals to give local people, entrepreneurs, community groups and councils the ability to bring about positive change that will ensure a thriving future for the countryside. The report is being billed as a blueprint for delivering the Big Society in the small places which are at huge risk unless action is taken now.
The Rural Challenge report sets out detailed propositions for taking on five key challenges facing the countryside – meeting rural housing need, building thriving economies, delivering good rural services, creating flourishing market towns and empowering local communities. The Rural Coalition, chaired by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, believes this can be achieved by letting communities seize the initiative.
Key recommendations of the report include:
Urging the Government to give greater independence to local residents and councils to ensure that rural communities can continue to live and work, and therefore be the foundation of a beautiful and living countryside with a secure long-term economic future.
Scrapping plans for referendums in the Government’s Community Right to Build scheme which would require 90% community support before new, small scale development can go ahead in villages. The coalition says the requirement could wreck the aim of the Government’s proposals and create long lasting conflict within communities which brings local development to a halt. Instead, elected parish councils, empowered by a community-led plan, should be able to initiate small community-led developments, within a reinvigorated and localised planning system designed to meet local needs in keeping with the area.
That town hall planners, local councils and communities should be free to come up with innovative solutions to the rural affordable housing crisis. By reforming the Housing Revenue Account and allowing councils to keep money from selling council homes, local authorities will be freed to help address the urgent need for new housing for young families and low-income households in rural areas.
A call for the Government to take proper account of the impact of public sector funding cuts on rural areas before finalising the Comprehensive Spending Review in October. By allowing communities to share some of the savings the Government makes to public spending on services, communities would be empowered to develop innovative local alternatives through community provision – including community ownership of shops, Post Offices, pubs, broadband hubs, sustainable energy and local community transport.
Pressing for a radical transformation of planning practice to give communities the lead in planning for thriving and sustainable new neighbourhoods when market towns need to grow. Too often market towns in urban areas have been ringed with endless suburban style housing estates and business parks, without any sense of rural identity.
The coalition is made up of groups including the Local Government Association, Country Land & Business Association, Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Town & Country Planning Association.
Chairman Matthew Taylor, who authored the Taylor Review of affordable housing and rural economies in 2008, said:
“On its current course, with no change in policy and no commitment to action, much of the countryside is becoming part dormitory, part theme park and part retirement home.
“We need a fundamental change of approach at both national and local levels to give rural communities a more sustainable future. The rural coalition believes the Government’s commitment to localism and the Big Society opens the door to those reforms – but as yet there is a very real risk that in practice cuts will fall heaviest in rural communities which may lose services altogether, and opportunities will be missed to make rural communities prosper.
“For 50 years or more, policy has undervalued the countryside and failed to meet the needs of rural communities. The result is starkly apparent: rural communities have become increasingly less sustainable and less self-sufficient. Today we publish a blueprint for the Big Society in small places – if the Government is serious about localism, it should rise to the challenge."
The LGA’s Rural Commission Chairman, Cllr Andrew Bowles, said: “The proportion of affordable homes in rural areas is little more than half that in urban communities. If young families and low-income households are not able to access housing in villages, services like schools, buses and Post Offices become even less viable. Councils have long been calling for greater autonomy and freedom to manage the finances of their own housing. This will free them up to meet the unique needs and aspirations of the areas and people they are elected to represent.”
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