Local Government Report sets out the way forward to tackle problems in rural areas - Ken Hind Leader RVBC

The Local Government Association meeting in Birmingham this week received a report from the  LGA Post Brexit England Commission which found a "deepening divide" between rural and urban areas, with unaffordable homes, poor internet connectivity and skills gaps combining to push the countryside further behind .It called for Government to pass greater powers to tackle the problems down to local authorities,leaving Whitehall free to get on with delivering Brexit. 

Councillor Ken Hind leader of the Ribble Valley Council representing the Borough at the conference commented, ''The report  which highlights  the problems  currently being faced by rural areas like the Ribble Valley has been widely welcomed across all the political parties in local government. Many of the problems identified in the report RVBC  is already tackling and we could do more if allowed by Parliament ''  

''In Ribble Valley we recognise rural villages need  to prosper and require small developments of new homes some of which should be affordable for young families,and include bungalows built for older residents so they can downsize in retirement . As part of the Councils 5 year review of the Local Development Plan or Core Strategy led by Councillor Alison Brown as Chairman of the Planning Committee, we are looking at ways of improving rural housing  so  we can protect rural services  shops pubs community halls and schools with a view to improving life in the rural areas.”

''The Council has recognised the need to become involved in house building and is now  a registered provider for affordable and social housing. At present we are able to build 100 houses. These homes will be of a type for rent or shared ownership  where we identify  a shortfall; family homes, bungalows for the elderly and starter homes for young people. These will be in areas of where we think they are needed throughout the Borough. We will look in the near future at the proposal for local authorities to raise our borrowing requirement as recommended by the report, so we can build more low cost housing to meet local need.”

''We recognise that delivery of affordable homes by private developers is a problem. As a council we receive applications from developers to build lots of market homes but if they do not deliver or land bank this does not help residents needing an affordable place to live. Developers are constantly moaning about viability of their applications and look for ways to increase the number of market homes and reduce  affordable homes that the Council insist they build - 30% on every site over 12 dwellings. In our 5 year review we will look at these problems and support ways of speeding up delivery of new homes as central government have proposed in their recent consultation.”

''Ribble Valley is the biggest rural local authority in Lancashire and we are constantly pressuring the Highway authority Lancashire County Council  to improve our roads and pavements whether it be  potholes or other repairs. We have received increased allocations of funding for our roads through our endeavours and that of our  County Councillors Albert Atkinson, Ian Brown, Alan Schofield and David Smith who fight our corner at County Hall.”

''We are deeply concerned about rural isolation and the need to improve bus services to our villages, sadly not our responsibility but as a council we pressure for change as we did in relation to restoration of Sabden Bus Services. RVBC however supports Little Green Bus with a grant and  our representative Councillor Ian Sayers leads the policy direction. We need  to counter isolation in the increasingly ageing population. The EU are trying to change the regulations so the 48 volunteer drivers at Little Green Bus will have to have new licences which we see as unnecessary  Nigel Evans MP is arguing against on our behalf with government ministers.”    

''The Council have accepted the need to adapt to changing circumstances by merging the planning departments together, with  economic development  and recruiting a new director to reorganise and lead this new grouping. It meets the challenges of a planning pressures and infrastructure development. In parallel the Council have set  up an Economic Development Committee led by Councillor Rupert Swarbrick to help create new jobs and businesses.The Committee is addressing a number of the key issues identified in the report and will bring forward an Economic Development  strategy for the whole Borough which will look at skill shortages and training as well as poor 4 G mobile connections in the rural areas where  we are pressing the mobile phone providers to improve the service in the 32 villages of the Valley. as well as in Longridge, Whalley and Clitheroe.The committee has also considered ways to improve the  Broadband connections in the rural areas essential for homes, farmers and rural businesses.This is particularly important for businesses in premises converted from former agricultural buildings.”

''Social Care is a key issue in the report and RVBC's  role relates to wellbeing, in simple terms keeping residents out of hospital and in their homes by promoting healthy living. This covers leisure, exercise  warmth, good housing, diet, protection from isolation and many other aspects. Councillor Bridget Hilton Chairman of the Health and Housing Committee and her colleagues are driving this agenda.”

''Parliament is obsessed with Brexit, whilst local government is concerned with the bread and butter issues which concern the everyday lives of residents .To MP s I say  give us in local government the powers and the resources to get on and deliver those services in the rural areas that are important, so we can make  the difference in the lives of local people,  Parliament makes policy but local government delivers and is closer to our communities. WE recognise needs, see solutions, implement government policy but we should be encouraged to do more .' 

Note for Editors 

Rural areas of England face a "perfect storm" that is threatening their success and prosperity following Brexit, a report has warned.

The interim report by the Post-Brexit England Commission found a "deepening divide" between rural and urban areas, with unaffordable homes, poor internet connectivity and skills gaps combining to push the countryside further behind.

It called for Government to pass greater powers to tackle the problems down to local authorities, leaving Whitehall free to get on with delivering Brexit.

Recommendations included:

- Giving all councils the ability to borrow to build new affordable homes

- Devolving funding and control over skills and employment schemes to local areas

- Handing councils legal powers to ensure all new-build homes are connected to future-proofed digital infrastructure

- Plugging the adult social care funding gap, which will reach £3.5 billion by 2025

The commission was set up by the Local Government Association, which hasreleased its interim report at its annual conference in Birmingham.

The report said rural residents were struggling to stay in their communities due to average house prices 60% higher than in cities outside London.Almost 40% of rural businesses rated internet connection speeds as poor, while 4G mobile signal coverage is available from all operators for only 60% of rural users outdoors and 19% indoors.

Local road funding lags significantly behind spending on national trunk roads and motorways, with rural workers facing journeys to employment hubs twice as long as those in urban areas.

The chairman of the LGA's people and places board, Mark Hawthorne, said: "Rural areas face a perfect storm.

It isincreasingly difficult for people to buy a home in their local community, mobile and broadband connectivity can be patchy, and people living within rural and deeply rural communities face increasing isolation from health services.

If Britain is to make the most of a successful future outside of the European Union, it's essential that our future success is not confined to our cities. Unless the Government can give non-metropolitan England the powers and resources it needs, it will be left behind.

This report outlines to Government a firm offer from councils in non-metropolitan areas, to play a greater role in building thriving, connected and healthy communities.

It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for non-metropolitan England to not only improve public services, but deliver a resurgence in rural England's economy as well.