Cool response for rural plans

LABOUR'S plans to introduce laws to increase support for rural communities have been greeted with less than enthusiasm in East Anglia.The Queen's Speech also outlined proposals to enhance and conserve landscapes as part of the drive to build thriving rural towns and villages and to create a single organisation, Natural England, to manage the natural environment.

LABOUR'S plans to introduce laws to increase support for rural communities are unlikely to have any major impact, it has been claimed.

The proposals were outlined in the Queen's Speech, but there was a cautious welcome in East Anglia.

Announced were plans to enhance and conserve landscapes as part of the drive to build thriving rural towns and villages and to create a single organisation, Natural England, to manage the natural environment.

Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, claimed this would establish a powerful champion for landscape and conservation working "for people, places and nature."


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The Government says its plans underline a commitment to achieving sustainable development and supporting rural services.

The Bill, to be presented to Parliament during the current 18-month long session, will establish a Commission for Rural Communities with the aim of giving "a strong voice to people in country areas, especially those suffering disadvantage."

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It will give the Secretary of State greater flexibility in allocating funding and delegating responsibility to delivery bodies working under Defra's remit and will introduce a number of measures designed to help streamline delivery and modernise wildlife and national park legislation.

But John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal and a former Minister for Agriculture and also Secretary of State for the Environment, didn't think his constituents would see any practical changes from the proposed legislation.

"They are politically correct words and not a programme for action," said Mr Gummer. "I hope Mrs Beckett really does have plans to tackle the real problems of rural poverty and declining agriculture and will rethink policies which have induced the closure or villages shops, garages and services."

Wil Gibson, Chief Executive of rural services campaigners Suffolk ACRE, doubted if the Government's plans would make a significant difference. "I'm pleased that there seems to be a focus on rural affairs but we need pump priming finances and a replacement for the Vital Villages Programme which aided rural communities."

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