East Anglia: Rural economy ‘hit hard’ by fuel costs

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have called on the Government to lift the “heavy burden” of rising fuel costs on the region’s rural economy.

The appeal comes in response to new research by the Countryside Alliance (CA) into the cost of commuting in all of Britain’s local authority areas.

With less than a week until the Chancellor’s pre-budget report, and following debate on the rising cost of fuel in the House of Commons earlier this month, the CA has warned that the future of rural businesses and communities could be under severe threat.

The group has requested George Osborne takes action on the cost of fuel by cutting duty as a matter of urgency, claiming people in rural communities pay 24% more on fuel per month than those in urban areas.

According to figures, residents of Suffolk Coastal travel an average of 372.5 miles to work each month, spending �62.90 on fuel - an increase of nearly 8% since the beginning of the year. Residents of Mid Suffolk travel 450.86 miles, paying �76.13.

Meanwhile, in London, motorists cover less than half that distance and spend an average of just �26.93 on monthly fuel bills.

The research shows that those living in the countryside spend almost �17 more on fuel each month than urban inhabitants, with four Essex authorities featuring among the ten most costly commutes. Residents of Maldon, Uttlesford, Rochford and Braintree spend between �84.26 and �88.82 on refuelling their vehicles, while in the more urban borough of Colchester, commuters cover fewer miles and spend �74.71 monthly.

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In his last budget speech, in March, Mr Osborne abolished the fuel duty escalator, under which duty rose a penny above inflation each year. But a VAT rise and plans to increase fuel duty again in January have provoked 100 MPs to sign a petition calling for further action to reduce prices.

The motion was signed by 83 Conservatives, including Waveney MP Peter Aldous, whose constituents pay an average of �68.09 a month travelling 403.25 miles to and from work. Mr Aldous said: “This issue came up at the turn of the year and I signed the petition because a lot of my constituents drew my attention to it.

“We are in a relatively peripheral location with a lot of people travelling by car to work in places like Norwich. In the fullness of time, the objective will be to create more jobs locally and improve public transport, particularly the railways.

“We have a large number of small enterprises and this is hitting people hard in the pocket. People in Waveney are on considerably lower incomes that those in London, or even other parts of East Anglia.”

William Burton, CA regional director, said: “Petrol prices are significantly higher in rural areas than urban areas as fuel cannot be bought in large quantities, which drives down the cost. The decline in rural bus services means that a car is a necessity not a luxury.

“The Commission for Rural Communities and many others have highlighted a lack of transport as a key cause of social exclusion in the countryside. This is particularly prevalent amongst young, old and disabled members of rural communities and can only get worse because of rising fuel prices.

“The Countryside Alliance strongly supports the scrapping of the proposed 3p fuel duty rise planned for next year and a further 1p next autumn.”

Countryside Alliance figures based on fuel consumption of a 36.2 MPG car using the most recent pump price:

Region Monthly distance (miles) Monthly cost (�) Jan 2011 Monthly cost (�) Nov 2011

Suffolk 375 58.80 63.30

Essex 444 69.60 74.90

UK average 302 47.33 50.95

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