THE Government’s top countryside expert has warned that the nation’s “in-built urban bias” is causing rising deprivation in areas such as Northumberland.
The head of the countryside agency tasked with improving living and working conditions in rural areas is calling for a renewed focus on villages and towns overlooked by the Government’s city focus.
Graham Garbutt, chief executive at the Commission for Rural Communities, has called on the Government to produce specific strategies for rural areas.
Current Government rural policy is often criticised for treating Northumberland and other countryside areas as simply “a ready workforce”.
Mr Garbutt said: “Rural challenges are real and demand the energetic attention enjoyed by urban centres in recent years.
“The urbanist fashion of recent decades has given us fairly clear expectations for our major cities.
“In contrast, the vision of rural communities can seem retrospective.”
Mr Garbutt added that while it was important to protect the unique qualities of small towns and villages, that should not rule out providing strategies to encourage economic growth in the countryside.
The problems facing rural communities include high house prices due to planning restrictions, inadequate transport links and a lack of clear regional leadership.
His comments were backed by Dominic Coupe, regional head of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Mr Coupe said the Government had let down Northumberland, and that part of this “was because of votes”.
He added: “Labour have put money into cities because that is where their votes are, and we have to settle for less.
“I have nothing against investment in urban areas but if you look at the grants and aid awarded, it is clearly unfair.
“If you constrain your expenditure to the urban areas, it follows that you risk depriving the rural areas of much-needed funding.
“The situation is very well-reflected in Blyth, were there are plans for millions of pounds to be spent on a new academy school.
“If you look at Alnwick, they are still using ancient facilities and there is not even a consideration to set up a new school.
“Or look at transport, there is little or no interest in dualling the A1, when everyone in Northumberland knows inward investment will only be attracted when there is a decent arterial road.”
Get tough, Brown told
THE MP tasked with solving the rural housing crisis has told Gordon Brown to get tough on second home owners.
Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor was asked by the Prime Minister to look at ways of solving rural poverty.
And yesterday he admitted that one solution to rising rural house prices may be to look at restraining second-home ownership.
His words will come as relief to young house-buyers in Berwick and Alnwick, where holiday homeowners account for nearly 10% of the housing stock.
The Commission for Rural Communities has called for councils to tax second home owners more in order to make it easier for rural families to stay in towns they have lived in for decades.
Mr Taylor said: "When they learn about it, the scale of the problem takes people’s breath away.
"And the crisis reaches across most of rural Britain."