3 April 1998

New body to advise on country issues

RURAL Britain will have a new countryside champion from Apr 1999 following the governments decision to merge the Rural Development Commission and the Countryside Commission.

The new organisation, yet to be named, will play a central role in formulating government policy on the countryside. It will also advise local authorities, and the eight new Regional Development Agencies on countryside issues, with the aim of promoting a living and sustainable countryside to meet the economic and social needs of people living and working there.

Miles Middleton, RDC chairman claimed the new body had the potential to be stronger than the two it replaced.

Country Landowners Associa-tion policy director Tony Bailey said the merger opened the door for the creation of a department of the countryside to be headed by a senior cabinet minister.

Tony Burton, assistant director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England also welcomed the merger. It was an essential first step towards greater recognition by the government of the importance of the rural areas, he said.

But he insisted that the "superficial attractions" of a separate department of the countryside should be avoided. It would isolate rural England from the key planning, transport, regional and urban policy decisions which were central to its future, Mr Burton said.

"Instead, we need a reformed agriculture ministry which places the environment at its heart, and a stronger environment ministry which champions the countryside across government," he added.

By Catherine Hughes