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Government claims it will give power to local people to preserve village life

September 1, 2011 8:39 AM

grasThe Rural Challenge is published by a newly formed Rural Coalition, and argues that without radically empowering local people to make decisions about their communities, rural villages could be under threat.

The report is a rehash of NuLabor ideology with references to The Big Society pasted in to acknowledge the change of government. The pervasive concept that people in rural areas should be free to develop 'localism' with the permission and supervision of the government never quite goes away. The fact that people running their own village shop or old peoples' club is seen as a revolutionary concept goes to show how centralised and dependent we've become.

The report's authors have no new ideas. For example they suggest money from 'right to buy' should go back into local housing. People have been saying that since RTB was introduced, but still the proceeds disappear into the central treasury coffers.

They point out that in rural areas the overall proportion of public sector jobs is higher than in the cities, and that government cuts are likely to hit the countryside harder than the towns. The vague proposals from the government about giving people the right to take over facilities from public sector organisations and run them themselves sound good in theory, and there are some success stories, but as a model for service delivery it won't solve every problem.

However the various organisations offer their own professional services to any rural dwellers wondering what to do, so all will be well if we can afford the consultancy fees.

The new rural economy is to be built around local food, sustainable energy and information technology. The first two have been the basis of the rural economy for the last five thousand years if you count peasant power as sustainable energy. The potential of IT to change the countryside is clear, and is in fact already happening - better broadband is probably now more important than the transport links which have defined development for the last two or three centuries.

The report rightly criticises the standard of planning of new housing developments in market towns - the NuLabor model was a suburb where cars were essential but inadequate space was provided to park them, and where developers crammed in high-density developments with minimal garden space and inadequate public facilities. The new government is making the right noises about improving estate design, but time will tell if this results in any real improvement.

"Local people in rural communities must be re-introduced to real local democracy," says the report. So we need to await the arrival of the missionaries from London who will tell us what we have to do to be saved.


Here's the government's press release:

"Alongside proposals to devolve power to residents, the coalition also calls for reform of the Housing Revenue Account system so councils can keep money from selling council homes to reinvest in affordable rural homes, and giving communities a leading role in planning for new neighbourhoods.

Last month, Housing Minister Grant Shapps announced plans to give rural communities a Right to Build, under which they would come together to approve plans for new homes, shops and community facilities to protect and preserve rural village life.

Under the proposals, which will be contained in the Localism Bill, community organisations will have the freedom to give the green light to new local developments without a specific application for planning permission, as long as there is overwhelming community backing in a local referendum.

Any surplus made from the sale or renting of homes would be recycled for the benefit of the community.

Grant Shapps said:

"Far from the Nimbyism that often hits the headlines, up and down the country there are entire communities willing and eager to give the go-ahead for new developments in their area. The countryside must be a vibrant place to live, and cannot be allowed to become a museum. I want to give communities the power to preserve their villages, which are currently struggling to survive because of a shortage of affordable homes.

"With housebuilding at its lowest level in any peacetime year since 1924, some areas are facing a battle to keep schools and GP surgeries open as younger people are forced to move away. The new Community Right to Build could provide the answer. It will give residents the power to give the green light to new homes that are suitable and appropriate for their local area. And because local people are in charge, developments will only go ahead with their overwhelming support."

Original article September 2010