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01/10/2014

More to rural economy than farming, says report

Words: Laura Edgar

The economy of the countryside is at threat owing to a lack of ‘rural-proofing’, warns a report by Newcastle University.

The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE), founded as a Newcastle University Research Centre, says entrepreneurs and businesses are losing out as a result of the lack of rural-proofing.

The new paper ‘Reimagining the rural: What’s missing in UK rural policy?’ argues that diverse rural economy is often considered to be exclusively agricultural when, in fact, it is a minor part of the rural economy. Rural areas support about half-a-million businesses that are not related to farming.

Therefore, the report explains, rural policymaking should not just address areas in terms of farming, but expand to be “crosscutting, embracing the range of policy influences that impinge upon specific rural areas”.

The report also discusses some of the current challenges facing rural communities that reflect a lack of rural-proofing, including small schools facing closure, GPs in holiday areas facing underfunding, and perhaps closure and cuts to public transport.

Effective rural-proofing of growth plans and polices are called for, including ones that include and look beyond farming and forestry; acknowledgement and support of the arts industry and the part they play in the rural identity and investment in affordable housing, business space and infrastructure. Businesses that are in rural areas, like those in urban areas, want to grow and expand but they face a number of challenges that could be addressed through the acknowledgment that their circumstances are different from those in urban areas.

Guy Garrod, director of CRE, said: “We need to see government instituting formal rural-proofing measures. Rural areas need integrated policy to address issues: they aren’t just the remit of Defra, and they aren’t just about farming.

“The rural economy is diverse and entrepreneurial, the government is missing a trick in not capitalising on rural potential to help fuel economic recovery.

“We’ve published this paper as a call for government to give greater weight to rural issues when making policy.”

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