Prescott delivers Rural White Paper
By FWi staff
DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott has unveiled the long-awaited Rural White Paper, outlining the governments policies for Britains countryside.
The glossy, 176-page document, called A fair deal for rural Britain, details a raft of measures designed to breathe new life into rural communities.
Mr Prescott told MPs that the government wanted a vibrant countryside. And he pledged: “Farming will continue to contribute to the bulk of the nations food.”
The document includes proposals to relax planning regulations for farmland and help farmers diversify by converting disused buildings and barns into offices.
The Department of the Environment will revise the planning system and review the much-criticised PPG13 rules, which currently hamper diversification.
The agricultural value of land should be treated only as one factor when local authorities decide whether to grant planning permission, said Mr Prescott.
Proposals to integrate on-farm inspections will be published within the next six months, as will plans to boost non-food crops and woodland enterprises.
The future of small abattoirs struggling to pay hygiene inspection costs will be secured with 8.7 million of government money in the year 2001-2, said Mr Prescott.
Market towns will be revitalised through a series of measures that include a plan to increase the number of farmers markets from 250 to 400.
The Department of the Environment and Ministry of Agriculture will now assess the public benefits from farmers managing the countryside.
Local authorities have been given the go-ahead to make owners of second homes pay the full amount of council tax. They currently receive a 50% rebate.
The extra money will be used to build cheaper housing for local people, often priced out of the market by commuters who work in cities, said Mr Prescott.
Countryside Agency chairman Ewen Cameron will take up a new role as a “rural advocate” to argue the case for the countryside at the heart of government.
The agency will prepare an annual report detailing how government policies have been assessed for their impact on rural communities and the countryside.
Mr Prescott said 270m would be used to turn rural post offices into one-stop shops for banking and health. Shops and garages will be granted rate rebates.
The rural police force will be boosted by a 45m investment over two years. Rural public transport will receive 192m over three years.
Mr Prescott said that the White Paper showed that the government recognised the “real difficulties” faced by rural communities.
But shadow environment minister Archie Norman said the test of the rural paper was whether it would tackle “the guts of the farming crisis”.