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A survey by the Liberal Democrats has contradicted a Cabinet Office report that said the countryside was better off...
A survey by the Liberal Democrats has contradicted a Cabinet Office report that said the countryside was better off in many respects than urban areas.

The Daily Telegraph (p8) reports that, according to the survey, only five of the 73 education action zones created by the government were in rural areas, despite there being no evidence that urban pupils had greater needs.

On transport, the survey said 75% of rural parishess had no daily bus service although residents had to travel up to 60% further than urban dwellers to reach basic amenities.

Colin Breed, the Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman, compiled the survey largely on the basis of information from parliamentary written answers.

He said: 'When it comes to the figures that matter, the truth is clear. This government is failing rural Britain.'



Overview and Themes

'Roots to Recovery' sets out a vision for the future of rural Britain, in which a revived agricultural industry forms the basis of a strong and sustainable rural economy and environment.

On Farm Support:

Changes in farm support through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are not only inevitable but desirable.

Agricultural support must shift away from production subsidy and towards rural development - i.e. environmental schemes and farm diversification

In the short term

- Modulation must be increased to release greater funds for rural development - this scheme should be tiered to protect smaller farmers

In the long term

- Britain should fight in Europe for a greater share of rural development funding and seek to increase the importance of rural development within the CAP.

- Rural development schemes should be reorganised and administered through a single Countryside Management Contract

On Regulation:

Current regulation places an unreasonable burden on Britain's farmers.

Regulation must be cut wherever possible

Britain currently 'gold plates' European directives. Instead Britain should fight for uniformity across Europe.

Farmers should not be expected to bear the costs of regulations, which are demanded by the public or the state - costs should be recovered in the market or from the public purse.

On Farmers:

Farmers are not park keepers they are businessmen.

Farmers should be supported in the short term in regaining their place in the competitive market, but in the long term commercial activity should be self-supporting

Farmers should rewarded and not just compensated when they are asked to take on environmental and social roles which go beyond those required of a normal business.

On the Environment:

Environmental protection is a public good.

Farmers should be encouraged to farm in environmentally sustainable ways - e.g. organics, integrated crop management, energy crops.

GM technology should be cautiously investigated under a 5 year moratorium on commercial growing, but research should be publicly and independently scrutinised.

On Markets:

supermarket dominance is damaging British farmers and destroying the traditional markets.

Farmers should be supported in getting a fair price for their produce:

- Local authorities should support farmers markets and other outlets through planning flexibility. Central government should ease the regulatory burdens

- a retail regulator should oversee supermarket operations

- farmers co-operatives should be encouraged

Consumers should be made aware of the origins of the food they purchase:

- Country of origin labelling should be vigorously pursued

- Consumer awareness of the high welfare and hygiene standards met in Britain should be raised

On Rural Services:

Funding formulae currently do not reflect rural needs. They must be altered to account for the sparse population of rural areas and other obstacles

Power should be devolved to local authorities best placed to assess local needs.

Parish councils should be reinvigorated.

Central and local government support should be provided for the establishment of local service areas.

Changes to benefits payments should be postponed until the future of the post office network has been secured.

9) Summary and Conclusions

This document has outlined a vision whereby fair regard for the unique nature and practices of the countryside informs all aspects of government policy from education to planning and from supermarkets to police stations.

Central to this scheme is the recognition of the vital role played by agriculture within the rural economy. Also central is the recognition of the need for modernisation of the way in which farms operate and the way in which farm support functions. Agriculture is an industry in transition, and it needs support in modernising. Current support mechanisms are focussed on production and not development. This must change.

Farmers must be supported in their process of modernisation towards more competitive practices and rewarded when they take on responsibilities beyond commercial enterprise.


CAP reform:

1. The Common Agricultural Policy should be reformed to redirect money away from direct subsidy support to aid to the development of the wider rural economy, through the Rural Development Regulation

2. Countryside Management Contracts organised in accordance within the Rural Development Regulation should form the basis of a new Common Agricultural and Rural Policy.

3. Flat rate modulation should be replaced with a tiered payment system that does not discriminate against the smallest farmers

4. An experienced and respected expert panel should be established to examine the possibility of removing all direct subsidies to the industry within the next 15 years, replacing them with a bond paid from within the constraints of the current budget.

Restructuring and Diversification:

5. Planning policy guidance should be given to Local Authorities to allow restructuring and diversification

6. The removal of agricultural ties on now unused agricultural accommodation, and their replacement with appropriate 'local' conditions determined at local level should be considered.

7. Landowners should be encouraged to provide 'diversification friendly' tenancy agreements, perhaps with tax incentives

8. 'Agriculture only' conditions within tenancy agreements should be re-examined to permit sensible diversification.

9. Schemes should be developed particularly with tenants in mind

10. Application procedures for diversification grants should be kept as simple as possible, and fit the Countryside Management Contract format.

11. Farmers co-operatives should be actively promoted, as business ventures, through various measures including the provision of favourable tax conditions for the co-operative purchase of equipment

12. The problems of tenants in entering into co-operatives should be examined and remedied

Early Retirement and New Entrants:

13. A targeted scheme to facilitate early retirement of farmers should be introduced.

14. New entrants should be encouraged to take up farms made available by retiring farmers through a new-entrant scheme linked to the early retirement scheme, perhaps through the expansion of existing schemes for small businesses to the agriculture sector.

15. Farmers should be encouraged to take full advantage of the new capital gains tax rules announced in the 1999 budget.

16. New capital resources should be provided by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation to assist new entrants to farming

17. Provisions should be made within the scheme to ensure that housing units and farms are not separated permanently

Environment and Farming:

18. Further environmental schemes should be formulated to aid farmers where they are expected to work toward environmental protection.

19. Schemes should be formulated so that farmers already engaged in environmental best practice benefit alongside those who improve standards.

20. Environmental schemes should become part of Countryside Management contracts

New skills:

21. More schemes to re-skill farmers in IT and other modern business practices should be introduced, and awareness of them should be raised.

22. Britain should attract further European Funding (beyond what is already available through Objective 3, and the enterprise system) for education programmes to be set up in rural areas

23. This should include training in environment and welfare issues, IT, health and safety, marketing and best practice.

24. 5 hours of free professional business advice should be offered to farmers with holdings of under 150 acres

25. Business advice should be well advertised, accessible, credible and relevant.

26. Support for cover for one-man farmers should be provided to allow them to attend re-training.

Organics, GM and New Technology:

27. Additional support should be provided for organic farm conversions

28. Support for renewable energy sources - including the building of biomass power stations - should be increased

29. Boundary margins between GM trial sites and other crops should be increased

30. Full public information on the nature of tests and the precautions being taken should be provided

31. GM trials and the development of other new technologies should be independently overseen to ensure public confidence

32. There should be a moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops for at least 5 years, only lifted when all the risks of GM have been properly investigated and assessed

33. There should be clear labelling of GM foods, to ensure consumer information and public confidence.

34. There should be government-funded independent research, development and promotion of other new technologies to facilitate lower input farming.

Rural Property:

35. The second home council tax rebate should be removed

36. Local authorities with high proportion of properties for second homes should be permitted to require a change of use application for a property bought as a second home

37. Changes to Capital Gains Tax relief on agricultural Land should be investigated

38. There should be new regulation of farm building conversion for alternative business use, including the removal of agricultural ties and their replacement with other restrictions according to local needs


39. Responsibility for flood prevention and rescue should be given to a single locally administered body

40. Funding formulae should be altered to take full account of the social and the economic costs of continued flooding.

Access to the Countryside:

41. Voluntary arrangements should form the basis of access to the countryside

42. These should include proper arrangements for policing and liability

43. Farmers should receive support and advice on diversifying into enterprises which take advantage of visitors and holiday makers to the countryside

44. Children and adults should receive education through schools and publicity on the nature of the countryside as a place of work

Animal Health and Welfare:

45. WTO negotiations should include considerations of animal welfare as a justifiable means of distinguishing produce

46. Both local and central government should support and facilitate farmers undergoing new financial demands on their businesses as a result of health and welfare concerns.

47. There should be an end to gold plating of regulations and moves made to ensure uniform implementation of European regulations.

48. Where British farmers are asked to go beyond the requirements met by their European partners, in the name of public health, they should be rewarded.

49. Clear labelling regulations based around truthful representation of country of origin and easily understood explanations of conditions of production should be introduced and argued for on both a European and WTO level

50. Local slaughter and processing facilities should be made available for farmers.

51. The operations of the state veterinary service should be reviewed

52. An independent body should be established to oversee scientific research relation to animal health and welfare

Red Tape:

53. A clear timetable for the implementation of the recommendations of the MAFF sponsored Red Tape reports should be established

54. Meat Hygiene charges should be levied on a headage basis at standard rate and that extra costs should be picked up by central government and regarded as a public health cost.

55. Moves to HACCP assessments within the Meat Hygiene Service should be encouraged

56. Britain should work alongside its European partners towards equal implementation of regulation

57. Where British regulations go beyond those implemented in Europe, central Government should foot the bill

58. An ombudsman for administering appeals against MAFF decisions should be established

British Food:

59. Country of origin labelling should be vigorously pursued

60. It should be one of the objectives of the Food Standards Agency to provide education and information about British food standards

Markets and Supermarkets:

61. The uniform business rate should be reviewed to increase rates charged to out of town superstores

62. Town centre partnership schemes and town centre management teams should be promoted

63. Consideration should be given to exempting shops under a given floor space and local markets from regulations (excluding health and safety) with which they are ill-equipped to deal

64. There should be changes to regulation governing the construction of new supermarkets

65. Among these the definition of permissible floor space used, when authorising new supermarkets, should be in proportion to local population centres rather than to national criteria

66. Planning Policy Guidance No. 6 should be clarified and strengthened with regard to the use of the phrase 'demonstrable harm to the vitality and viability' of the town centre to put the onus on the developer to demonstrate no harm will be done

67. Extensions to supermarkets in excess of 10% of the existing floor space should be treated as new store applications

68. Support for new marketing outlets should be provided

69. Use of new technologies such as the internet should be considered when creating new markets

70. Central and local government should develop strategies to provide local outlets for local produce

71. The establishment of farmers markets should be supported, with finance and flexibility on planning and regulation

72. Government funding should be made available for marketing schemes

73. Farmers should be offered retraining and encouragement in developing and capturing new markets for specialised products, and small farmers offered cover to free them to attend this.

Small abattoirs:

74. Unnecessary red tape affecting small and medium sized abattoirs should be cut.

75. The possibility of grant aid for the establishment of mobile slaughter and processing facilities should be investigated

Rural services:

76. Funding formulae for provision of rural services should be altered to properly account for sparsity of population and other unique features of rural Britain

77. Provision of services such as NHS direct should be administered through Primary Care Groups

78. Substantial government funds should be directed towards the funding of rural public transport

79. Plans for changes to the system of benefits payments should be shelved until such time as alternative sources of income for Post Offices have been identified and put in place

80. Both central and local government should offer support to communities seeking to establish communities banks

81. Funds should be made available by central and local Government to support the creation of one-stop-shops to provide rural services

82. Schemes to provide services via the internet and through new technology should be fully assessed to ensure applicability and accessibility in rural areas

Local Government:

83. The power of general competence should be extended to Parish and Town councils

84. The limits on expenditure by Parish and Town Councils to allow community projects should be extended

85. Community wide projects organised through local councils should be encouraged

86. Responsibility should be devolved and delegated to parish and town councils

87. Training for councillors and staff should be provided

88. Parish and town councils should be allowed to gather funds through taxation

89. Voting systems for local elections should be reformed to ensure that votes count

The Young and the Old in Rural Britain:

90. Funding allocations should be designed to take special note of the need to provide transport to service centres as well as centres themselves

91. Rural job provision, particularly for the young should be prioritised

92. School education should include rural issues

93. The establishment of quality rural higher education institutions as well as 'learn from home' schemes to allow re-skilling should receive central and local Government support.

The Government Machine:

94. The possible restructuring of the government machine to incorporate a Department of Rural Affairs should be fully investigated

An independent system of appeal should be incorporated into any restructuring plans.

Housing Need

4.4 One key, and often neglected, environmental issue facing rural Britain is population change.

The rural population is currently expanding rapidly and there is evidence of migration from urban to rural areas. The Countryside Agency estimates that the number of households in the most rural districts will increase by 25% between 1991 and 2011, with only 13% of the increase due to natural population growth.

People have moved from urban areas to the countryside for a variety of reasons, but principally because it is perceived as a more attractive place to live, and this has altered the traditional structure of the population.

- The increased immigration of wealthy and more affluent people has affected house prices and contributed to the lack of affordable housing. It has, of course, also brought greater spending power.

- The increase in the number of 'second homes' is has had a detrimental effect on local housing availability. In some attractive parts of the country up to 30% of housing units are either 'second' or holiday homes.

The high demand for accommodation to either live or holiday in the countryside is likely to continue and so there will remain an urgent need to tackle the shortage of affordable housing for purchase and rental.

The private letting market in rural areas is also limited and when such housing exists it is often tied to employment or only available outside the holiday season. People are therefore dependent upon social housing provided by housing authorities and local authorities, but this continues to be in very short supply, with only 750 units of social housing to be built in rural areas next year.

The idea of sustainable development must be more clearly understood by those who seek to achieve it. Development of a countryside that is able to survive economically on its own merits, which can support shops and services within its own community will mean rethinking current planning policy. Development has always been about more than bricks and mortar and we must now achieve a consensus on what sustainable development will require in the modern countryside, in order to manage the economy and environment successfully alongside each other.

Sound economic and environmental concerns need not be mutually exclusive. They can be addressed together so that a high quality environment provides the basis for prosperity through sensitive development.

If social housing is to be provided there must be a more flexible approach than is currently the norm. In many cases agricultural buildings remain unused and unmarketable for many years as a result of 'agricultural ties'. In certain circumstances these could be replaced by some kind of 'local needs' ties.

No single scheme can address all circumstances. Differing rural areas will require different solutions. A threefold plan should be made available so that where agricultural ties are removed either (a) some kind of 'local needs' requirement - perhaps based on proximity of employment - is imposed, (b) authorities ensure property created is available for local rental or (c) development grants are made available for local enterprise projects.

Property Values

4.5 High prices are not just a problem for housing but all land and property. Market prices are currently at levels far beyond the productive values of the underlying land, and the spending power of local people. One reason for this is that rollover capital gains tax relief provides an incentive for large investors to buy and sell rural property. Any change to this system would clearly have to be very carefully considered so as not to cause a crash in land values negatively affecting landowners - many of whom are farmers who have few other assets. However in the long term a closer relation between the market value of land and its productive value and state of the local economy must be desirable.


- The second home council tax rebate should be removed

- Local authorities with high proportion of properties for second homes should be permitted to require a change of use application for a property bought as a second home

- Changes to Capital Gains Tax relief on agricultural land should be investigated

- There should be new regulation for farm building conversion for alternative business use, including the removal of agricultural ties and their replacement with other restrictions according to local needs

Solving problems?: By creating more housing whilst still keeping land within the control of local people, the flow of the rural population out to urban areas is stemmed and the sale of houses for second homes in discouraged - allowing the creation of workable rural communities.

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