Cash aid call for rural areas

Tories say the funding system which gives more to Scotland than the North should be scrapped to ensure the survival of rural areas.

Tories say the funding system which gives more to Scotland than the North should be scrapped to ensure the survival of rural areas.

As ministers come under fire for their countryside policies, Conservatives in Berwick, Northumberland, are calling for a fundamental rethink on the relationship between urban and rural areas.

They insist all legislation in future should pass a new `Berwick test' instead of the existing Barnett formula which gives Scotland more Government money than the North.

The Government is committed to `rural-proofing' all legislation so counties like County Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland are not discriminated against, but campaigners in the region claim the policy is being ignored.

Berwick's Tory political spokeswoman Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: "The number of communities now classed as unsustainable is appalling. We absolutely need to start thinking about rural areas when introducing new legislation and there should be a test to help us do that."

It follows an appeal in the Commons by Penrith MP David Maclean for an `anti-discrimination' bill to protect key services in rural areas.

Attacking Government policies on bus services, the single farm payments fiasco, health funding, the closure of post offices and housing allocations, Mr Maclean said the recent Queen's Speech failed to include one bill to tackle rural discrimination.

"When I look at measure after measure I see that rural areas are being ignored and neglected and that when the Government does focus on them it is in order to discriminate against them," he said. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has admitted it is preparing to abolish its only target for regenerating the countryside because it is incapable of being measured.

Chairman of the Northumberland Campaign for the Protection of Rural England Dominic Coupe admitted rural-proofing was not proving a success.

He said `middle-class ghettos' were developing due to the lack of bus services, in turn preventing housing development.

"You have to get it right in the urban areas because it relieves the development pressure on the countryside," he said.

"But you can have too much of a good thing and the balance might to be too far the other way so that rural areas end up being deprived of vital local services."

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