Hinterland - 15 March 2021

In Hinterland this week: CPRE campaigning for towns; extra care housing and town viability; infrastructure controversy linked on the one hand to it and the other to coal mining; paltry rural health pay and the challenges facing the humble hedgehog!!!

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Rishi Sunak accused of failing to alleviate the funding gap between towns and cities and rural communities

Hard hitting stuff from Crispin at the CPRE. This story tells us:

The CPRE charity’s chief executive, Crispin Truman, said reforms were needed and more could have done to help boost funding for market towns and villages in Mr Sunak's Budget.

He said the Government was employing funding models that “systematically disadvantage” rural communities and worsen the climate emergency.

He added: “By levelling up between urban and rural investment, not just North and South, we could regenerate many rural towns and villages that have been long forgotten.

“It’s just not right that government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44 per cent higher for urban areas than it is for rural areas with no major cities. We risk levelling up Northern cities to the level of London and leaving rural areas stuck in disadvantage and decline.”

Both the CLA lobby group and the NFU welcomed Mr Sunak’s announcement that business rate relief and the reduced VAT rate will both be extended.

The NFU’s president, Minette Batters, urged the Government to invest in farming to bring “huge benefits to sustainable food



 Elderly vital to revival of towns

Does this article represent an increasingly new approach to the future of our smaller rural towns?

“Ageist and insulting” was the verdict of one resident when Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey turned down a 220-home retirement village proposal last autumn.

But elsewhere, new partnerships are being formed between local groups and a new breed of more socially conscious developer set on building communities for older people that support positive ageing and reanimate the towns and neighbourhoods they call home. A confluence of factors means these partnerships are very likely, in the next decade, to draw billions of pounds of baby-boomer and pension fund money into towns and cities.

The first driving factor is growing concern about the future of towns. Council leaders are concerned that the damage to retail from online shopping and Covid is irreversible. Plus no one knows by how much town-centre office space will shrink.

Local politicians understand the vital role of town centres as social hubs and meeting places at the centre of how society functions. So, they are urgently looking to attract investment and find a sustainable future for the burgeoning stock of empty commercial space.

At the same time, major investors are looking for ways to have a greater social impact. For some, such as AXA Real Estate-owned Retirement Villages Group, the idea of investing patient capital or pension fund money to build high-quality housing for older people, while contributing to the post-Covid renewal of towns and cities, is exciting.

Last, but not least, is the demand factor. Baby boomers have more wealth than any previous generation of over-65s, a greater desire to stay connected, and a preference to be closer to town centres and play an active role in communities.



UK government confirms financial support for Shared Rural Network programme

This sounds positive but in view of previous false dawns I am not holding my breath….

In a move that it says moves it a step closer to delivering better mobile coverage in rural areas, the UK government has published its transparency notice for its Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, and will now proceed with a £500m investment designed to provide all corners of the UK with better mobile connectivity.

The £1.3bn SRN programme was first proposed in October 2019, aiming to wipe so-called “not spots” from the map, providing what the government claims will be “high-quality” 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025. This followed years of complaints by mobile consumers and businesses that the major political parties had consistently failed rural businesses by lacking a credible solution to improve mobile 4G and 5G coverage.

In practice, the SRN will be made possible through a partnership between the UK’s four major telecoms operators – EE, O2Three and Vodafone – which will invest in a network of new and existing phone masts they will all share, overseen by a jointly owned company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited



Nurses' union anger over 'pitiful' 1% NHS pay rise

Worth remembering in the context of this story that it is disproportionately difficult to recruit healthcare staff to work in rural settings. It tells us:

The government can expect a "backlash" if it goes ahead with a proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England next year, a nursing union has warned.

The health department has made the recommendation in a submission to the independent panel that advises on NHS salaries.

The Royal College of Nursing called the suggested rise "pitiful" and said nurses should be getting 12.5% more.

NHS staff have been excluded from a pay freeze for most public sector workers.

The NHS Pay Review Body is due to recommend salary levels for health service staff before early May, before ministers then make a final decision.

In its submission, the health department said awarding NHS staff a "headline" pay increase of more than 1% "would require re-prioritisation".



Whitehaven coal mine: Planet or jobs debate reignited


I grew up in a coalfield area. It seems even after all these years strange that all forms of coal extraction might now be loaded with the depth of controversy set out here irrespective of what it might be used for. Not that I am in anyway a climate change denier. I just think it would be useful if we were able to consider the evidence and make a fact based judgement in an unemotive way.

Plans for a coal mine in Cumbria have turned into a global political row. The plan for the first deep mine in the UK for decades in Whitehaven was approved by Cumbria County Council in October 2020.

However, after an outcry from environmental campaigners including Greenpeace and Greta Thunberg, the council suspended its decision.

Now the government, which had previously decided not to intervene in the project has done just that and said a public inquiry must be held.

To complicate matters further, the company behind the mine, West Cumbria Mining (WCM), announced it was taking legal action against the council claiming its U-turn could not be "justified".

Conservative MP for Workington Mark Jenkinson said he believes a lot of people oppose the idea because they do not understand the mine would produce coal for steel-making, not for power stations.



And Finally
Petition gathers pace to save hedgehogs from extinction

In and finally we return to the plight of our old friend, a veteran of regular comments over the last 12 years of Hinterland – the humble hedgepig! This story tells us:

A wildlife charity seeking to protect native hedeghog populations in decline in the UK is calling for support to afford their nests legal protection.

Hedgehogs are already protected by law, but a petition calling for measures to protect their nesting sites too has received 92,000 signatures to date.

The threshold for a parliamentary debate is 100,000 signatures minimum.

Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Somerset said building housing estates was threatening hedgehog habitats.

Pauline Kidner from the charity said: "When you see the large amounts of housing estates that are going up and all these fences built with cement bases, it means that these animals, wherever they are, lose their foraging [space] and they're unable to move from one garden to the next."

She said foraging space and the ability to move about with freedom was "so important" for hedgehogs to be able to survive.

Hedeghog numbers have fallen by up to 50% in rural areas since 2000, according to one report, and they are registered as vulnerable to extinction on the Red List for Britain's mammals.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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