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LGA CONF: BE IMAGINATIVE - COUNTRYSIDE AGENCY URGES LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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The proposed Rural White Paper will shape the future of the English countryside - the fact that it is being prepare...
The proposed Rural White Paper will shape the future of the English countryside - the fact that it is being prepared alongside the Urban White Paper presents local government with the ideal opportunity to think imaginatively about linking town and country to the benefit of all, according to Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency.

Speaking at the Local Government Association conference in Harrogate yesterday, Mr Cameron said: 'We have the chance for some real integrated and joined-up thinking to forge a better relationship between town and country and establish what kind of places we want them to be. These two White Papers and proposals for modernising local government provide local authorities with the opportunity to reassess ways they relate to rural communities, how they deliver services to rural people and how they involve them in the planning and decision

making processes.

'But that means being imaginative Many policies will only work effectively in rural areas with adaptation and flexibility to meet the local circumstances. That is the challenge for local authorities. Between us we can make a difference.'

Welcoming Lord Rogers', urban task force report, Mr Cameron pointed out that in many cases the word 'rural', could have been substituted for 'urban': 'The importance of design in people's lives, the importance of open spaces, good transport and facilities for walking and cycling, the importance of long term planning with the full participation of local communities, the need for fiscal

incentives to encourage repair and full use of existing buildings and the need to attract private and institutional investment into the residential rented sector.

Mr Cameron continued: 'Achieving the right balance of development between town and country is essential. While we broadly support the aim to make better use of urban and brownfield sites, we need to recognise the need for turning some brown field sites green to act as the lung for city dwellers. In the long run this may be a better way of preventing over development of the countryside. We also need to recognise that there continues to be a need for some new housing in rural areas.'

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.

In consultation on the Rural White Paper, it has recommended key areas for action are:

* the need to 'reinvent, market towns as key centres for rural areas

* utilising the full potential of information and communications technology in helping to overcome problems of distance and sparsity

* a new contract between farmers and society should be encouraged to create a more sustainable agriculture

* the value of an accessible countryside as a national asset should be

protected not just for its own sake but for the benefits a quality countryside can deliver to future generations

* tackling social exclusion in rural areas, making clear what service

standards rural people and business can expect

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