Hinterland - 29 April 2019

In Hinterland this week - The Lords Report on Rural Economies, fracking, housing, trees and a dark 'And Finally' about rural crime. Read on...

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Rural communities being ignored and underrated, say peers

We must start with this heavily anticipated publication of the Lords report on the Rural Economy. I endorse every aspect of it. I do have this salutary thought however. I remember a friend from the pub who went to the GP as he wasn’t feeling well. He was told you drink and smoke too much, to which his response was: “Tell me something I don’t know…” I lost contact with him years ago and I don’t know if he’s still alive, he didn’t ease off the booze and fags. Returning to the report, all these issues are known and really need action, the key challenge for the future health of rural England will be to see if anything changes! This article, which because of the significance of the report is quoted in full, tells us:

Rural communities have been "ignored" and had "inappropriate" policies forced upon them, a report says.

A group of peers said a new agenda for the countryside was needed similar to the government's industrial strategy.

Priorities included improving mobile and broadband connections, replacing lost bank and bus services and tackling social isolation, the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee said.

The government said it was committed to "rural proofing" policies.

Ministers plan to spend £3.5bn on supporting economic development in the countryside by the end of 2020 through the Rural Development Programme.

The cross-party committee of peers said policies suitable for urban and suburban areas had too often been foisted upon the countryside.

As well as improving communications, it is calling for action to address the supply and cost of housing and a lack of training for people working in rural industries.

"Successive governments have underrated the contribution rural economies can make to the nation's prosperity and wellbeing," it said.

"They have applied policies which are often inappropriate for rural England. This must change. With rural England at a point of major transition, a different approach is needed."

Lord Foster, the Lib Dem peer and former MP who chairs the committee, said the "clear inequalities" between urban and rural areas could not be allowed to continue.

He called for a policy blueprint of equal ambition to the government's industrial strategy to realise the potential of struggling and under-performing areas.

Access to high-speed broadband is a major issue for rural communities

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said too few politicians had a real understanding of the needs of the countryside, despite the fact one in five of the population lived there.

It said investment was needed in housing and other infrastructure to make market towns and villages attractive places to live and work.

"A failure to address the unique and specific needs of these communities has put them at risk of being left behind," said its chief executive Crispin Truman.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom warned last year of a widening urban-rural divide in broadband provision.

Only 41% of rural premises received a mobile data link of of 2Mbps or higher, it found, compared with 83% in urban areas.

The government has set aside £200m to fund full fibre broadband connections in rural and hard-to-reach areas across the UK by 2033.

"We will continue to champion the countryside, driving forward high-speed broadband in hard-to-reach places, increasing housing availability in rural areas and supporting the creation of more than 6,000 jobs through our dedicated fund for rural businesses," it said.


Fracking tsar quits after six months and blames eco activists

Sounds like fracking in the UK is dead….

The government’s fracking tsar has quit the post after just six months, claiming policy relating to the controversial process means there is “no purpose” to her job.

Natascha Engel told the business secretary, Greg Clark, that developing the industry would be “an impossible task” despite its “enormous potential”. In her resignation letter, she said environmental activists had been “highly successful” in encouraging the government to curb fracking.

Engel, a former Labour MP, wrote the letter following two weeks of protests by the Extinction Rebellion group, which brought parts of London to a standstill with demands to cut emissions to zero by 2025.

She wrote: “A perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine – not for any technical or safety reasons, but because of a political decision.”

Engel complained that a traffic light system that halts fracking when a tremor with a magnitude of 0.5 is recorded “amounts to a de facto ban”.


MPs call on landlords to scrap 'no DSS' clauses in rental ads

This article and the one, which follows it tell us much of what we need to know about why it is very hard for anyone of modest means to have much of a prospect of a roof over their heads in large swathes of affluent rural England. And why does it matter? Well mainly because serious social division starts when we remove the mix of different types of people from communities, whether deliberately or as an unintended consequence of ill thought out public policy. This article helps explain this point in powerful detail, particularly in terms of minority groups, women and people with disabilities. It tells us:

MPs have demanded landlords and letting agents end the practice of screening out people on benefits after hearing claims that “no DSS” clauses have become the 2019 equivalent of “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” notices.

During a hearing into the widespread refusal of landlords to rent properties to those on benefits, the Commons work and pensions select committee on Wednesday confronted the director of Your Move, a national online lettings agency, with an advert it published in March for a home in Telford, Shropshire, that read: “No DSS. Small dogs considered.”

They also drew admissions from leading lettings agencies Hunters and Your Rent that they still run “no DSS” adverts, despite rising opposition to the practice, which Derek Thomas MP said amounted to a “hostile environment” for tenants on benefits.

Heather Wheeler, the housing minister, said last month she wanted to tackle the practice of “no DSS”, but it remains widespread. One current advert for a three-bedroom house in Cheshire reads: “Small Dogs Considered (higher deposit), NO DSS, NO SMOKERS.”

Another for a property in Cornwall seems to be trying to avoid using the letters DSS and instead says: “No ---. Small dogs considered.”

In 2017-18, 889,000 households in the private sector needed housing benefit to pay their rent and the housing charity Shelter said the “no DSS” practice breached equality law because it disproportionately affects women and people with disabilities. Renters say it means they have less choice, standards are lower and costs higher.


Third of councils failing to build enough homes for local people

This article creates a completely erroneous impression of the responsibility for a lack of local housing. It should say National Government is “failing to build enough homes for local people” Local authorities, as we all know have been financially completely hollowed out. Where these failures exist is at the level of national planning. The one positive coming out of this is the fact that local people are getting sufficiently fed up with it that they’re finding their own solutions through bodies such as Community Land Trusts. This article tells us:

Almost a third of councils in England have failed a new government test of whether they are building enough new homes for local people.

New analysis reveals that Conservative councils were the worst culprits, with 35 per cent having failed ministers’ “housing delivery test” – including housing secretary’s James Brokenshire own local authority. 

Many Labour councils also failed to build enough homes, with 29 per cent not meeting targets, as did 33 per cent of those under no overall control. Four of the 12 Liberal Democrat-controlled councils (33 per cent) also fell short.

The figures are the first to show how many councils have failed the government’s housing delivery test, which was introduced last year.

The results are likely to fuel concerns that cash-strapped councils are struggling to cope with growing demand for new housing. 

While 219 councils met their target, 107 did not, with their combined shortfall totalling almost 64,000 homes – equating to a 30 per cent shortfall across the 107 councils.


Trees must be planted across area half the size of London every year to offset climate damage of farming, experts say

Analogies are really good for putting things into context.  People I have met may recall my fascination with the fact that if England was a football pitch all the buildings in it would fail to fill one penalty area. Makes you think. On the same basis this article about the areas of tress that needs to be planted to offset climate change is very thought provoking. It tells us:

An area nearly half the size of London should be planted with new trees every year to help tackle climate change, environmental experts have said.

Covering 70,000 hectares with new woodland across the UK annually would result in a net total of zero carbon emissions from farming, according to the think tank Green Alliance.

London covers 159,000 hectares.

Calling for more ambitious action on greenhouse gas emissions, a report by the alliance also advises the government to introduce a raft of measures including urging people to eat “less and better” meat and more plant-based foods.

The mass tree-planting scheme needs to start immediately to meet the National Farmers Union’s target of net zero carbon emissions from land use by 2040, the alliance believes.


And Finally

Dog walker finds a human leg near primary school

A dark And Finally this week……I was watching the local news on Friday night and following a story about a series of ram raids on rural shops to remove cash machines this story surfaced. It made me think if you put the two together that a sort of weirdness which links isolated and lonely places with deeply unpleasant activities arises. These are examples of rural crime with a Stephen King twist, made all the more worrying because of the lack of any quick response when these things happen and the sparsity of witnesses which makes the crimes themselves harder to solve and easier to get away with. Goodness alone knows how this body part found its way to New Waltham but Im glad I wasn’t the dog walker who found it….!

Part of a human leg was found close to a primary school by a dog walker near Grimsby, prompting a police investigation.

Humberside Police said officers and forensic experts were called to the scene on Thursday after it received a report of a suspected body part found on a foot path in New Waltham at about 6.45am.

Initial forensic examinations confirmed the limb as a small section of a human lower leg and foot.

“While we are still in the very early stages of the investigation, we can confirm it is human and is a small section of a lower leg and foot,” said Detective Inspector Rhodri Troake.

The Peaks Parkway Path, which runs behind the playing fields at New Waltham Academy, was immediately cordoned off. 


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


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