Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Liberal Democrats offer rural communities a different, fair future

  • We'll ensure the countryside is a place of opportunity, of vibrant communities in which people can afford to live and work.
  • As we create communities that are economically and socially sustainable, we'll make sure they're environmentally sustainable too

In a key speech, Nick Clegg said:

Rural Britain is ready for a change. And the big change you need is at the heart of this manifesto: opportunity. That's fair for you, and releasing your potential - the potential within the rural economy - is good for us all. The skills, creativity and talent within that increasingly diverse economy has for too long been overlooked.

  • The first part of that involves helping farmers and other small businesses that depend on agriculture:
  • We'll regulate Supermarkets with new rules to stop them bullying farmers, and a new regulator to enforce them.
  • We'll make sure food is labelled so that customers can choose goods that have been produced locally, in the most environmentally friendly way.
  • We'll reform the Single Farm Payment so that more money goes to farmers who really need it, like hill farmers, farmers who want to go green, the next generation of farmers through a new Farming Apprenticeship scheme.

But we'll go further. While agriculture is an enormously important part of the rural economy there are a whole range of industries to be found in our countryside that need support, and that will be enourmously important in our future - tourism, the creative industries, renewable energy, green technology, running the local services, the shops, the pubs, that keep the countryside alive.

But too many of those businesses are constrained by a lack of opportunity in the countryside. And too many parts of rural Britain are becoming enclaves for the rich and retired. We'll fix that, making it a place people can live and work:

  • Through better transport - from giving councils more say over bus routes so they suit your needs and you're not stranded without a car, to introducing a rural fuel discount scheme, so we can reduce the rate of fuel duty paid in very remote areas, where you are forced to depend on your car.
  • Through affordable homes - a massive issue in so many parts of rural Britain. We'll give councils the power to get affordable homes built where you need them, helping young men and women onto the housing ladder. And where villages are being reduced to weekend getaway destinations for second home owners, we'll give councils power to act.

Finally, as we create communities that are economically and socially sustainable, we'll make sure they're environmentally sustainable too. That means giving local people control over planning, including housing targets, to better protect our beautiful countryside. It's not right to foist ill-thought out development on our rural communities and it just creates resentment.

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