Rural districts welcome fair deal for countryside

Rural Methodist districts have given a "cautious welcome" to Government plans to seek a "fair deal" for the countryside.

The plans were unveiled at the end of November in an attempt to tackle the economic and social crisis facing rural Britain. Farming communities and rural services have been hit particularly hard in recent years.

The Cumbria Methodist District was the first to respond to plans for rural regeneration, outlined in the Government's long awaited White Paper, "A Fair Deal for Rural England". Rev David Emison, Chairman of the Cumbria District applauded the White Paper's commitment to:

  • retain the rural post office network
  • develop "one stop" centres for essential services
  • protect rural schools
  • ensure more affordable rural housing
  • improve public transport in rural areas
  • vet new laws for their impact on rural regions
  • fund partnerships which boost local rural services

Rev Emison said the latter was the "most positive commitment" of the White Paper, which showed that the Government was promising to "listen to rural communities, to create effective partnerships with local people and empower them to shape their own future".

He went on to welcome the recognition given in the plans to the role of the Church in many rural communities: "This recognition is a challenge to the Church to seek a more effective partnership with local people and government at all levels." The promise of a reduction in VAT on the repair of listed church buildings (among other financial support) would be of "enormous help" in the foundation of such new partnerships.

The White Paper recognises the deep crisis among people who make their livelihood in the countryside, particularly in the farming industry. It outlines the need for a more competitive farming sector, as well as interim protection to prevent farms from going under in the short term. Rev Emison sounded a note of caution over whether the Government "really appreciates the urgency" of such support.