Rural white paper gets thumbs-up

October 20, 1995

Howard Newby, vice chancellor of Southampton University and a member of the Rural Development Commission, has welcomed the Government White Paper on rural England, published this week, as a "step in the right direction".

He said that the problems of people living and working in rural areas were addressed at last and he would now like to see proposals on rural housing.

The remit of the Cabinet committee on the environment is to be expanded to cover rural affairs across all Government departments.

Martin Whitby, of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne's centre for rural economy, was pleased about the announcement that the Cabinet environment committee's remit is being widened.

Improved coordination should "avoid the interdepartmental conflicts and rivalries which in the past have led to missed opportunities and wasted opportunities," he said.

But Ben White, based at the university's centre for land use and water resources research, said that the White Paper has arrived at a time when it is no longer clear that the problems of rural and urban communities are distinct.

He said that the paper may be flawed in its concern with two forms of sustainability - environmental and community. It hopes to reconcile these twin aims by concluding that wealth creation and environmental quality are increasingly interconnected.

Dr White argued, however, that this "denies the fundamental conflicts that will arise between business and the environment, especially in regions such as the south-east where land is scarce".

Dr White said that a sustainability agenda requires an integrated approach to land use planning for agriculture, forestry, housing and business development. The emphasis of the White Paper, however, was on investing increased powers in local democracy. "This does not provide a clear mechanism for integrated regional transport and environmental policies," he said.

The need for integration was most apparent in environmental policies, where uncoordinated policy initiatives are "at best inefficient and at worst damaging".

He warned that the Government's plan to double forest cover over the next 50 years from 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent of land area could also suffer from this problem.

The Government says that it will work closely with local authorities, landowners and voluntary organisations to encourage such planting but Dr White fears that if too much of the responsibility is handed over to individual farmers and landowners, it could reduce the availability of drinking water.

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