You may not have heard of it, but ‘The Rural Coalition’ recently published its 2017 statement, outlining the policy priorities and actions that it thinks will be required to sail rural communities through Brexit and beyond in a safe and secure (as opposed to strong and stable) manner. The Rural Coalition is exactly what it says it is: a coalition of partners all of which have a rural interest. Its members include:
- Action with Communities in Rural England
- Campaign to Protect Rural England
- Country Land and Business Association
- Germinate. The Arthur Rank Centre
- National Association of Local Councils
- National Farmers Union
- National Housing Federation
- Plunkett Foundation
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- Royal Town Planning Institute
- Rural Services Network
- Town and Country Planning Association
The statement is not long, and worth a read if you have some time. The points are hardly ground breaking, but they need to be said nevertheless. I’ll outline the headlines below:
- Rural England means more than agriculture and the environment.This is a vitally important point to make. It may seem obvious but is rarely given sufficient airtime. Rural housing, education, community, crime, business support and broadband are all important issues.
- Rural communities are diverse and decisions and funding should be devolved to local levels and involve local people.
- Affordable housing needs to be a priority in rural areas. It is very difficult, particularly as a young person or young family, to ‘live well’ in the countryside today, and to earn enough to pay your rent, let alone buy a house and provide that security for your family. There is a severe shortage of affordable homes in the countryside. Development should be restricted and planned. It should not create eyesores in a traditional village. However, village communities should be mixed enough to be sustainable and to support young people and those on limited incomes to have a roof over their heads.
- Support local communities to help themselves. All over the place, communities are ding brilliant things, whether that is taking over the local pub, running a community shop, investing in renewable energy or running services. A support base must be there to allow more communities to do the same and to support those communities that are already doing positive work.
- Ensure grants continue. Brexit will mean an end to the LEADER and EAFRD grants. We need to make sure that there is a programme in place that enables rural businesses to continue to take advantage of financial support from central sources. The economy benefits from the long run, as do local rural communities. It is small businesses that form the backbone of rural communities, providing the jobs that sustain them.
Without a doubt Brexit has the capacity to fundamentally change the English countryside, its economy and local communities. However, rather than focusing on what Europe has or has not done in the past, it should be an opportunity to think about what kind of future we want, how we can fund it and how we help those who will make it happen. There will likely be many more statements and reports such as this. The question is, what good will they do?