14 June 1996

Government slow to act on Rural White Paper

By Shelley Wright

LANDOWNERS have criticised governments failure to act on the commitments it gave in the Rural White Paper, launched last autumn.

Ewen Cameron, president of the Country Landowners Association, said this week that the publication of Rural England had been the most significant positive action ever taken by government to emphasise the importance of the countryside.

But the promised integrated approach, spanning all relevant government departments, had not been delivered. While the Department of the Environment seemed determined to progress the White Paper commitments, other departments – including MAFF – did not.

"I have serious concerns that if left entirely to the DoE then the Rural White Paper will notmeet its commitments," he added.

Mr Cameron also hit out at the Cabinet committee, meant to ensure co-operation on the White Paper between departments. "We are disappointed at the lack of political progress. As far as I am aware the Cabinet committee has not yet focussed at all on the implementation of the Rural White Paper."

While there had been some progress on environmental issues, including extra funding for the countryside stewardship scheme, there were many areas where no advances had been made.

The CLA was most concerned about rural planning policy. Tony Bailey, CLA policy director, insisted that government must give practical encouragement so that brownfield sites could be used rather than greenfield ones for rural development.

And there had been no consultation on a new rural business use class which would encourage local authorities to allow businesses to diversify.

Mr Cameron said: "Govern-ment must continue to recognise the needs for landowners to be able to diversify from their traditional businesses if these businesses are to survive and prosper and provide new jobs."

Other issues raised by the CLA included governments failure to encourage parish councils to take a positive role in the management of footpaths, and failure to halt the rise in rural crime.

The CLA believed the White Paper was of such importance to rural areas, that it would continue to press for progress where commitments had been given. "We are determined that the Rural White Paper should not be allowed to gather dust on Whitehall shelves; the commitments must be realised in positive political action," Mr Cameron said.