07 March 2008
A lack of infrastructure, affordable housing and service provision is leaving rural residents feeling like 'second-class citizens', according to a report.
The Rural Services Network, a coalition of more than 250 service providers, including councils, accused the government of consistently failing to do enough to protect the needs of people living in the countryside.
Graham Biggs, the network's chief officer, said: 'The government has broken its pledge that nobody should be disadvantaged because of where they live. We hope that our report will serve as a wake-up call that rural citizens are not prepared to be treated as second class.'
The report, Sustaining rural communities, published on March 3, calls on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to assume responsibility for and act swiftly on the findings of the Taylor Review into affordable rural housing, due to report in the summer.
It demands a fundamental review of the way that the planning system applies the test of sustainability in rural areas. It also calls for a redistribution of public funds as recognition of the extra costs of providing services in the countryside.
Biggs said: 'It is unsustainable and iniquitous for people living in rural areas to pay more in council tax while receiving less by way of services.'
The call to action coincided with a report from the government's advocate for the countryside, the Commission for Rural Communities' chair Stuart Burgess. He found that many English rural households were below the official poverty line of £16,492 a year.
Burgess said: 'Many people who live and work in rural England can enjoy a relatively healthy and prosperous lifestyle. However, the picture is not so rosy for all. A significant number of people are unable to share in this high quality of life, with more than 928,000 households with incomes below the official poverty threshold.'
Burgess's recommendations include the need to promote community land trusts, which ensure properties are affordable for rural workers and do not become second homes.