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Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing/Shelter conference on rural housing in Dundee, Scottish agriculture,...
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing/Shelter conference on rural housing in Dundee, Scottish agriculture, environment and fisheries ninister, Lord Sewel confirmed his commitment to a fully integrated rural policy.

He said:

'I believe that policies affecting rural Scotland will be most

effective if they are well-co-ordinated and underpinned by clear

principles. I want to focus on maintaining and improving life chances

for local people. We need policies based on sustainability which can

allow rural development without compromising the protection of our


'A Scottish parliament would give greater scope to provide

distinctive Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. It would also give increased scope for the imaginative consideration of issues which cut across a number of different policy areas, such as the links between housing and education and employment.

'We need to address the full range of needs of rural communities - education facilities, shops and employment opportunities. The greatest challenge is to ensure these developments are planned with enough insight and imagination to avoid destroying the very features that make Scotland's countryside distinctive. The population of rural Scotland is increasing - heightening the need to provide additional good housing in the right areas at prices which people can afford.

'We are keen to make best use of existing housing stock. Most

recently, we announced an extra 2million grant for the Empty Homes

Initiative. This is the start of a long-term initiative aimed at bringing empty homes back into use.

'We intend to make housing repairs, including energy efficiency measures, a key priority for our environmental task force.

We are also examining how Care and Repair Schemes can be tailored

to allow more elderly people to remain for longer in their own homes.

'Crofting has been an important factor in retaining significant

populations in the more remote areas of the Northern and Western

Highlands and Islands. The Building Grants and Loans Scheme run by

the Scottish Office is worth over£3m and has already given 200

crofting families the go-ahead to improve or construct their croft house.

'I will be inviting comments on rural policy proposals when contributions from those involved in housing will be greatly


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