Think-tank meets to find rural solutions

A HIGH-PROFILE think-tank formed to find solutions to the problems facing rural communities and businesses in Essex had its first meeting yesterday.

Elliot Furniss

A HIGH-PROFILE think-tank formed to find solutions to the problems facing rural communities and businesses in Essex had its first meeting yesterday.

The Essex Rural Commission, which is made up of some of the county's leading lights, met at Colchester United's new ground, the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

The panel of commissioners, including Simon Brice, vice-chairman of the Essex branch of the Country Landowners Association, and writer, journalist and academic Professor Germaine Greer, is being chaired by Professor Jules Pretty from the University of Essex.


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Prof Pretty, an expert on the environment and biological sciences, said the panel had collected some very helpful evidence from members of the partnership during yesterday's session - as it looks to come up with 10 priorities be put to Essex County Council in the spring.

Prof Pretty said it was clear from the feedback that if action was not taken soon then the worrying trends that have emerged in recent years, such as the closure of village and parish shops, would continue.

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He added: “Many communities are now losing their last shop. Unless we find a way to re-think some of that then problems are going to spiral.”

He said making more use of existing community spaces was one of the key issues raised during yesterday's session.

The idea of opening up churches for use by other groups and the utilisation of school computers for sessions with local pensioners were examples of how communities could offer more to residents.

Prof Pretty said: “We want to know the ideas people have got to make improvements to the economy and environment of Essex.

“We don't want to produce a report with 183 recommendations - what we are interested in is coming up with things we can actually do in the county.”

Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, said he was dedicated to taking a lead on community issues.

He said: “I am delighted the commission is getting out quickly in the community to talk to the people who experience the challenges of living in a rural community first hand.”

More than 70% of Essex can be classed as rural, including most of its 350-mile long coastline.

The commission plans to study a broad range of issues affecting rural communities in the coming months, including the provision of local shops, post offices and schools, affordable homes, transport issues and hidden deprivation.

The panel will meet next at the House of Commons on November 19.

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