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Rural areas at risk unless government acts on housing and austerity

Words: Huw Morris
Rural village / Shutterstock_164266613

Rural areas in England could become ‘enclaves of the affluent’ unless the government tackles the lack of affordable housing and the impact of austerity on local services, says a group of national organisations.

The Rural Coalition, which comprises 12 organisations, calls on ministers to stop sidelining the countryside on Brexit and crucial public policy areas for around nine million people who are in danger of being “left behind”.

Key principles for securing a “living, working countryside” include providing a planning system and funding regime that delivers a significant increase in affordable homes outside towns and cities.

The coalition also calls for a fair distribution of funding for services between urban and rural areas. The government’s industrial strategy should aim to realise the potential of the countryside and tackle market failures.

The organisations argue that EU trade, regulations, funding programmes and migrant labour have all helped to shape the countryside and urge Whitehall to rural proof Brexit and post-Brexit policy decisions. They warn that key funding under the LEADER and EAFRD programmes will stop after exiting the EU, with potentially severe consequences for the rural economy.

Seventeen per cent of England’s population live in rural areas, supporting around 520,000 businesses and employing nearly 3.7 million people. Rural areas generate £404 billion every year for the national economy.

“The government must recognise that rural England is not just about farming and the environment, and address the very real challenges facing those who live and work in our smaller towns and villages,” said the coalition’s chair Margaret Clark. “For too long, rural people and businesses have been left behind and sidelined in the national political debate.”

The 12 organisations include the RTPI, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said: “The role of planning is equally vital in small towns and villages as it is in urban areas. It is therefore essential that the planning of our urban areas and rural areas is undertaken in a joined up way with the distinct needs and contributions of both evaluated in a holistic way.”

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