F8: A Rural Future - Time to Act

Federal Policy Committee

Mover: Baroness Bakewell (Lords Spokesperson on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

Summation: Cllr Heather Kidd (Chair of Policy Working Group).

Conference believes that all communities - whether rural or urban - should have the opportunity to flourish. Conference notes, however, that national policy decisions tend to be made with urban communities in mind and, therefore, they do not always benefit rural communities as well as they could.

Conference notes that rural communities face substantial challenges in the following areas:

  1. Housing: Housing in rural areas is less affordable than housing in urban areas (excluding London); average wages are lower and average house prices higher, which damages communities by forcing key workers to live outside the communities in which they work.
  2. Services: Access to services in rural areas - broadband services, mobile coverage, public transport, postal services and health and social care services - lags too far behind that which is available in urban areas.
  3. Economy: There has been a large change in the type of employment available in rural areas - with a growth in tourism and other service industries - and these jobs require the rural population to have a broad and flexible skill base that is not encouraged through existing training routes.
  4. Land use and the environment: farming, horticulture and forestry need to be able to deliver a sufficient quantity of food and other products for the UK market while actively protecting and caring for the environment.
  5. Flooding: Many rural and coastal communities are still suffering the consequences of severe flooding in recent years; they lack both the support to recover and the funding for new flood protection.

Conference endorses the approach of policy paper 129, A Rural Future: Time to Act, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy to meet these challenges.

Conference particularly calls for:

  1. Increasing the availability of affordable housing in rural communities:
    1. Easing planning restrictions to allow agricultural buildings no longer suitable for agriculture to be converted to homes.
    2. Building affordable homes on all developments: require a right to provision of affordable housing on developments of two or more properties in very rural areas and four or more properties in rural areas.
    3. Reducing second home ownership in rural areas: increase local authorities' powers to tax second home ownership through a stamp duty surcharge or increase in council tax.
  2. Investment in infrastructure in rural areas:
    1. Ensuring that superfast broadband (over 30Mbps download speeds and 6Mbps upload speeds) is provided to all households and businesses.
    2. Improving public transport by: introducing a new Young Person's Bus Discount Card, for people aged 16-21, giving a two-thirds discount on bus travel; giving local authorities greater control over their transport network; and, planning for the future by preparing for a greater number of electric vehicles.
    3. Developing community hubs that co-locate services around medical centres, post offices and pubs.
  3. Support for the rural economy:
    1. Working with Local Enterprise Partnerships to support the development of rural and coastal economic strategies including a housing element.
    2. Introducing modular apprenticeships to support young people to develop the wide and flexible skill set required for working in rural communities.
    3. Expanding the BritRail scheme to UK citizens to promote tourism and make it affordable for everyone to explore the country.
  4. The reform of land use policy to promote economic and environmental sustainability:
    1. Re-defining efficiency in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to capture the economic worth of measures undertaken for the public good and ensure the viability of agriculture in all parts of the UK.
    2. Increasing the share of CAP payments given to support rural development, prioritising: woodlands and forests, soil protection and improvement, flood-prevention, generation of energy from renewable sources; effective husbandry and upholding of high animal welfare standards.
    3. Supporting producers by broadening the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and proactively supporting the rural population to have better access to local markets.
    4. Supporting producers by broadening the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator and proactively supporting the rural population to have better access to local markets.
  5. Investment in flood protection in rural and coastal communities:
    1. Looking at comprehensive, whole-system approaches to flood prevention by investing in flood defences that work with natural processes.
    2. Requiring new developments on areas at risk of flooding to include flood-prevention measures and incentivize flood-protection for existing at-threat properties.
    3. Launching a National Fund for Coastal Change, to enable local authorities to properly manage their changing coastlines.

Applicability: Federal, except 1 (lines 34-44), 2 b) lines 49-52, 2 c) lines 55-56, 3 a) and b) (lines 58-63) and 5 b) (lines 81-89) which are England only.