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TAKING THE TEMPERATURE OF ENGLAND'S MARKET TOWNS

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Health checks for a fifth of towns ...
Health checks for a fifth of towns

One in five English market towns are now taking the first steps to

regenerate and improve life for rural communities under a

government-financed programme of action. They are carrying out the

Countryside Agency's market towns 'health checks' to understand and

tackle the problems and challenges they face now and in the future,

according to Countryside Agency deputy chair Pam Warhurst - but more

towns could benefit from taking their own temperature.

Speaking on Friday's Action for Market Towns convention in Ely,

Pam Warhurst said:

'Our scheme gets market towns measuring their 'health'* and ability

to provide essential services for the surrounding countryside. This

means an action plan can then be put together to address a town's

problems. Since the scheme started in May last year 190 towns have

signed up to do health checks and 120 of these have completed it and

created their action plan.

'Here in Ely a health check has highlighted that there isn't enough

affordable housing and temporary accommodation, so they're action

plan will aim to tackle these problems. Having done a health check

Thorne in Yorkshire, a deprived former colliery town, has decided to

focus on young people as its priority, so has planned new meeting

places and a skatepark to replace redundant and out dated facilities.

'While we're really pleased that a fifth of towns have already got

involved and are feeling the advantages, there are still many other

market towns that would benefit who we'd like to see doing the health

check. Any town interested in doing a health check can find all the

information they need about how to do it on our website -

www.countryside.gov.uk/market-towns.'

Some of the main issues thrown up so far by the health checks are:

- concerns about employment levels and the wish to maintain a healthy

local economy through business diversification, more business space

and boosted tourism;

- there's a desire to engage young people and offer them more

opportunities locally;

- better recreation facilities are badly needed;

- towns want to enhance their centres, retail areas, main approaches

and derelict areas;

- and, for people living in rural communities around towns, adequate

transport facilities really determine their quality of life.

The Countryside Agency's information on how to do a health check and

create an action plan are part of the market towns toolkit, which

also contains advice about community participation, funding for

projects, training, transport and business support. Information about

the toolkit is available on the Countryside Agency's website, along

with details of your regional Countryside Agency office who can

provide information about how the market towns initiative operates in

your area. From October the website will carry new advice based on

information from towns who have completed health checks.

Notes

*A 'healthy' market town needs a whole range of factors: economic,

like attracting and retaining investment and a skilled workforce;

environmental - conserving and creating high-quality landscapes and

historic buildings; and social, such as bolstering civic pride and

confidence.

The Countryside Agency and the regional development agencies are half

way through a three year programme in which they have£37m to spend

on revitalising England's market towns.

The Countryside Agency Vital Villages project provides funding and

advice for rural communities to improve their services - information

at www.countryside.gov.uk/vitalvillages

The Countryside Agency supports Action for Market Towns, a national

network for smaller towns and all those interested in their future.

For further information phone AMT on 01284 756 567

The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and

taking action on issues affecting the social, economic and

environmental well being of the English countryside.

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