New commission to tackle rural problems

INNOVATIVE thinking and far-reaching changes are needed to tackle some of the most pressing problems in rural Essex, it was claimed last night.

INNOVATIVE thinking and far-reaching changes are needed to tackle some of the most pressing problems in rural Essex, it was claimed last night.

And such is the concern for the future of countryside living in Essex a special rural commission is being established to put forward a series of recommendations and observations to policy-makers in the county.

The Essex Rural Commission (ERC), made up of a panel of nationally recognised experts, will look at a broad range of issues affecting non-urban communities, including the provision of local shops, post offices schools and affordable homes.

It will also consider transport issues and the problems of hidden deprivation.

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The commission will be chaired by well-known broadcaster, journalist and opinion-former, Elinor Goodman.

Ms Goodman was political editor of Channel 4 News for 23 years before devoting more of her time to countryside issues and she frequently comments on rural issues in the national press and broadcast media.

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Also joining the commission is Professor Germaine Greer who, in addition to being a leading academic, farms a smallholding in Essex.

Mary Maskell, who successfully campaigned for Great Bentley to win the first BBC Essex Best Green Village award last month, will also join the commission along with Essex University's Professor Jules Pretty who is well known for his expertise in rural and environmental affairs.

Former Essex NFU chairman Simon Brice, who has extensive experience in the changing nature of modern agriculture, Canon John Brown, formerly rural officer for the Bishop of Chelmsford and former chairman of the Rural Community Council for Essex and Tom Oliver, head of rural policy for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) will be among other members of the commission.

The ERC will be calling a number of expert witnesses to give evidence in order to contribute to the debate over a series of meetings through the autumn and winter.

Ms Goodman said: “Despite its close proximity to London, Essex is predominantly a rural county, nearly three quarters of which is farmed. Generally, the county has an excellent quality of life but people who live in the countryside are presented with a range of challenges that those who live in urban areas do not have to face.

“With escalating costs it is becoming increasingly difficult to live in the countryside on even an average wage. Pensioners and those on modest earnings find it increasingly hard to cope and are being priced out of rural communities.

“This is a worrying state of affairs and I am very pleased to have been asked to chair this commission to tackle these issues head on and put forward recommendations to the policy makers of Essex.”

John Jowers, Essex County Council cabinet member for localism and planning, said: “We are very fortunate to have such high-profile figures as members of our independent commission and we are especially grateful to the Commission for Rural Communities for allowing Elinor to take on the chairmanship.

“All of the commissioners are exceptionally well qualified and I have every confidence that this project will be very productive.

“Our rural communities in Essex are not unique in the challenges they face but Essex County Council takes these threats very seriously, and consequently the cabinet decided to establish an independent panel of experts who will advise us on innovative ways to deal with rural issues.”

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