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INVESTMENT IN RURAL SERVICES CAN PAY DIVIDENDS

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Launched today the latest Countryside Agency survey, Rural ...
Launched today the latest Countryside Agency survey, Rural

Services in 2000, reveals new hope for some rural services that have seen long

term decline. Rural transport, an essential local service under pressure for

years, had reached an all-time low in 1997, with only six out of ten parishes

receiving a six or seven day a week bus service. The 2000 survey highlights a

welcome improvement with 67 per cent of parishes with such a service.

Equally, more rural communities now have somewhere to meet and carry out a

range of activities. Throughout most of the 1990s, some 70 per cent of

parishes had a village hall or meeting place, but in 2000 this had risen to 85

per cent, with help from lottery funding.

'This change in fortunes for rural transport and village halls shows what can

be achieved by more investment in rural services tailored to what local people

need,' said Pam Warhurst, deputy chair of the Countryside Agency. 'It is

possible to stop the rot. For rural transport, this change coincides with the

introduction of a number of schemes designed to help improve local services,

such as our rural transport partnerships and the rural bus subsidy grant,

showing what can be achieved with public investment in rural areas. Of

course, more needs to be done. Three out of ten rural settlements still have

no bus service at all, mostly in places where less than 100 people live but

altogether accounting for some 1.75 million people. It is at this very local

level that imaginative ideas for solving people's mobility problems are

particularly important and the Countryside Agency's new parish transport grants

can provide the financial backing to get those ideas moving.'

The triennial survey, however, points to a continuing decline in rural post

offices. It remains the most widespread service network but, between 1997 and

2000, 546 rural post offices have shut. The 2000 survey shows that one in

every fifteen rural households (387,000) lives more than 2km away from a post

office - whereas in urban areas nearly all households are within 2km.

Whilst welcoming the improvements, Pam Warhurst warned: 'The challenge in

providing quality rural services is a wide one. We are worried about the

vulnerability of these services, especially in smaller settlements. The

current pressures on the Post Office and doubts about the future of the

Universal Bank could lead to further closures, despite the government's

commitment to maintain the rural network. At the same time, projects such as

Your Guide*, combining a one stop shop for information services with secure

cash handling, being piloted by the Post Office across Leicestershire, must be

encouraged.

'We continue to look for new ways to deliver services in rural areas, in

particular through our market towns and vital villages initiatives. But, if

the government is to meet its own commitment to rural service standards in its

Rural White Paper, better public services for rural people and businesses will

need additional investment.'

For other essential services, the picture appears to be stable. More than

seven out of ten rural settlements do not have a general store or village shop,

but 80 per cent of rural households live within 4km of a supermarket.

Other findings from Rural Services in 2000 include:

* nine out of ten rural households live within 2 km of a primary school

* more than eight out of ten live within 4 km of a doctor's surgery; yet with

few out-reach services significant numbers of households (nearly 13%) live

between 4 to 8km away

* nearly nine out of ten rural households live within 4km of a petrol station

* more than half of all rural settlements do not have a pub

* but over 50 per cent of all parishes have at least one youth club

* 9 per cent of parishes have a community internet facility

* nearly six out of ten rural households have a bank or building society within 2km of their homes; but for businesses the closure of rural branches can impose

significant difficulties

* job centres are concentrated on larger market towns and urban centres, with

seven out of ten rural households living within 8km yet six out of ten are more than 12 kms from a Benefits Agency.

The Countryside Agency's Rural Services in 2000 report is the most

comprehensive to date. The fourth in a series of triennial surveys, it presents

most data for the first time at a settlement level, as well as providing the

parish-based results as in previous years.

Pam Warhurst said: 'This is a valuable report. Our move to post coded data

will help service providers plan more effectively, mapping service provision

and identifying gaps in rural areas. It gives us a much better understanding of the complex and changing picture of services in rural England, and will help us develop market towns as strategic service hubs for their surrounding countryside. Some areas of rural England are well served, while others are lacking. Many rural households, especially those living in smaller villages and hamlets, are disadvantaged when it comes to something as essential as getting to work, shopping for groceries or

accessing cash.

'To ensure a fair deal for rural areas requires creativity and innovation to

work together and deliver services where they are needed.'

Rural Services in 2000 (CA 48) can be downloaded from the Countryside Agency

websiteor is available from Countryside Agency Publications, P.O.Box 125, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EP Tel: 0870 120 6466 price£16. Further information about the Countryside Agency's grant schemes, for community services, parish transport, town and parish plans to help rural communities plan for their future, is available on

the website or by calling 0870 333 0170.

NOTES

The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and taking action

on issues relating to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the

English countryside.

Deputy chair, Pam Warhurst, is a board member of Yorkshire Forward (RDA), a

trustee of the Earth Centre, and chair of the National Countryside Access

Forum. She is a former leader of Calderdale MBC and former chair of Calderdale Healthcare NHS Trust.

There are around six million rural households in England. Market towns are

defined as centres of population in rural areas with a population of between

2000 and 20,000; parishes have up to 10,000 in population; and rural

settlements have less than 3,000 residents.

By applying geographic information system (GIS) technology to the results of

both the parish survey and post coded data, the new rural services survey 2000,

provides an assessment of the geographic availability of services to individual

settlements and households. The resulting database is very substantial and the

Countryside Agency will publish further, more detailed regional reports, and an

accompanying technical report, in both hard copy and electronic format.

*Your Guide, formerly known as Government General Practitioner, was developed

to provide revenue to help sustain the nationwide network of Post Office

branches.

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