Government urged to produce rural strategy ahead of Brexit

Rural services providers call on government to seize opportunity to end “rural mainstreaming”.

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Rural services providers and community organisations across England are today (1st March) calling on the government to produce an “urgent” comprehensive strategy for rural areas in preparation for Brexit.

The call is said to be the result of concern that deep-seated challenges to the sustainability of rural communities and service delivery in rural areas have been inadequately addressed by government.

Concerns have also been raised in reports of the potential of rural areas being “squandered” due to more people outsourcing from rural areas to urban-based jobs.

According to figures in reports, 17% (9.4m) of England’s population live in rural areas –more people than in Greater London.

These areas currently receive less grant per head than urban areas, even though it costs more to provide their services.

For example, in 2018/19, urban authorities will receive 49.43% (£123) per head in Settlement Funding Assessment grant more than their rural counterparts.

Other key findings include:

• House prices are, on average, £44,000 higher in rural areas than urban areas. But the median average earnings for rural employment are £21,400, 10% less than England’s average (£23,700)
• Options for those on low-incomes seeking social rented housing are typically limited in small rural settlements – only 8% of households in villages live in social housing compared to 19% in urban areas
• Two-thirds of rural local authorities say affordable housing delivery decreased in their rural areas in 2017, following a change in planning policy
• For every eight rural homes sold to rural tenants under Right To Buy, only one replacement home was built, severely depleting stocks
• Second homes and holiday lets often add to rural housing pressures

In acknowledgement of the numerous challenges faced by rural areas, the Rural Services Network report identifies a series of recommendations to address these challenges.

These include:

• Putting forward a realistic definition of affordable housing
• Delivering a planning policy to fit rural circumstances and bring forward development sites at a price suited to affordable housing
• Offering a specific grant programme designed by housing associations in small rural settlements for rural affordable housing
• Taking steps to reassure landowners that any land they release for rural exception sites will only be used for affordable housing and widening nearby parishes and settlements rather than local housing registers alone
• Allowing local authorities to retain 100% of the proceeds from Right To Buy sales to reinvest and replenish the stock of affordable homes in line with the government’s lifting of the cap on local authority borrowing to build social housing

On the report, Rural Services Network CEO Graham Biggs said: “Rural Communities are frequently overlooked in a policy environment dominated by urban thinking and policy concerns.

“This often means communities either miss out on the benefits or experience unintended consequences from policies which are poorly thought-through from a rural perspective.

“It is time for this ‘rural mainstreaming’ to stop. People living in our towns and villages simply cannot afford to wait any longer for politicians to take their concerns seriously and act on them.”

He added: “If rural communities are to be sustainable, the government must seize this opportunity to work with communities to produce a long-term, funded rural strategy, which recognises the contribution rural areas make and have the potential to make to the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation.”

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