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Bishop of Ripon calls for ‘comprehensive strategy’ to support rural areas

02 October 2020

Covid highlights need for a ‘level playing field’ for rural and urban areas, says Dr Hartley

Jason Bryant

Ploughing and collecting: The Revd Richard Priestley, Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity, Binegar, in Somerset, led a drive-in harvest festival, organised with the Methodist congregation of Oakhill Chapel, on Sunday. The offerings were taken on entry in a bucket on a tractor (see more photos from the event, below)

Ploughing and collecting: The Revd Richard Priestley, Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity, Binegar, in Somerset, led a drive-in harvest festival, organised with the Methodist congregation of Oakhill Chapel, on Sunday. The offerings were taken on entry in a bucket on a tractor (see more photos from the event, below)

THE Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, has said that there needs to be a more “level playing field” for rural and urban areas.

In a statement on Thursday of last week, Dr Hartley said that rural areas required a “comprehensive strategy from our Government that tackles a tapestry of issues: affordable housing, schools, connectivity, and transport. That will require some imagination: Covid-19 has brought to our attention how important farming is to feeding the nation, but it has also exposed the fracture lines.”

In a report released on Wednesday of last week, Rebuilding Rural: Growing back better, the Rural Coalition outlined the challenges faced by the 17 million people who live in non-urban areas. These include risks to public-transport routes; a lack of affordable housing; gaps in digital connectivity; the strain placed by ageing populations on limited local health services; tensions involving the owners of second homes from urban area; and a loss of jobs in tourism owing to the pandemic.

The organisation has urged the Government to “level up” and address these issues by devolving decision-making and resources to allow for planning at a local level. It asks that it supports rural communities by helping them to connect more with urban areas, and encouraging “greater interdependence and understanding, so that the benefits that each offers the other are better understood”.

Jason BryantJason Bryant

Dr Hartley said that the reportchallenges a mindset which too easily relegates ‘rural’ into one ‘type’, and equated with decline and fixation on tradition. In fact, the reality is quite different.”

She said that future research needed to provide “more detail on the sheer variety of what ‘rural’ means, and the multitude of micro-cultures that operate in local communities. Any attempt to ‘level up’ will need to take that into account if it is have any hope in achieving its aims.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday of last week: “The Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda should not favour metropoles over rural areas. Despite accounting for 17 per cent of the population, rural communities lag behind on the vital infrastructure needed to be successful in this digital age.”

Dr Smith has previously called for policymakers to pay more attention to the needs of rural communities (News, 6 July 2018).

Jason BryantJason Bryant

On Thursday of last week, an amendment to the Agriculture Bill was backed by a majority of 95 peers in the House of Lords, which means that food can be blocked from coming into the UK under future trade deals if it does not meet animal-welfare standards.

Dr Smith praised this in his Twitter post: “The safety of consumers, the environment, and animal welfare are examples the UK should be proud to set globally as we move into a new future.”

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