'Two-track' fears for UK rural areas

UNLESS rural areas are revitalised, Britain faces the prospect of a two-track countryside composed of prosperous urban escapees and marginalised rural residents, the Liberal Democrats were told yesterday at their annual conference in Brighton.

By Graham Dines

UNLESS rural areas are revitalised, Britain faces the prospect of a two-track countryside composed of prosperous urban escapees and marginalised rural residents, the Liberal Democrats were told yesterday at their annual conference in Brighton.

Chris Huhne, one of the Lib Dems' failed leadership candidates who is now the party's spokesman shadowing the department for the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), said rural areas were facing major challenges.

These include the crisis in affordable homes, declining community facilities, and a mountain of red tape hindering farmers and small business.es.


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“The time has come to bite the bullet and introduce radical measures that will revitalise our rural communities,.” said Mr Huhne..

The conference approved measures to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding single farm payments, to give greater power to local authorities to solve the crisis in affordable housing, and the creation of a legally binding supermarket code and an end to excessive bureaucracy hampering single farm payments.

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The party's junior rural affairs spokesman Roger Williams unveiled new analysis of the recently released 2004/5 farm payments showing that more than 1,000 payments were made for less than €100 (euros) nationally, including more than 480 in the East Midlands and South West, at an administrative cost of £450 per claim.

He said the figures did not bode well for the 2005 single farm payments, which have yet to be fully paid, because the new system is more expensive to administer and makes more owners of small parcels of land eligible for small payments.

“These figures demonstrate the immense bureaucracy surrounding farm payments which Labour's reforms have still failed to solve,” said Mr Williams.

“We already know that the Government's new and botched single payment scheme has resulted in payments of just one pence.

“Yet it costs infinitely more just to process an application. The faulty IT system alone cost £450 per claim.

“It's ludicrous that so much time has been wasted on negligible claims when many farmers suffered enormously from the payment delays.

“Liberal Democrats would introduce a minimum threshold for payments of 100 euros, as allowed by EU law, so that in future, farm payments are delivered more quickly and efficiently.”

The conference motion criticised the Government's “incompetence” on rural affairs, ranging from the Foot and Mouth crisis to the Rural Payments Agency fiasco.

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