12 December 1997

RDCs chairman quits in protest

By Tony McDougal

A NEW chairman of the Rural Development Commission is needed, after the resignation of Lord Shuttleworth in protest at the governments decision to transfer projects totalling £20m away from the RDC.

Lord Shuttleworth said the switch of the RDCs rural regeneration work to the proposed nine regional development agencies from Apr 1, 1999, would be a blow to the countryside. "People in rural areas will find it hard to believe that regional development agencies, covering large areas and inevitably having an urban bias, will give much attention to their needs.

"The break-up of the Rural Development Commission sends a negative message to rural England and is a devastating blow for the commission," he said.

The long-term future of the 90-year-old organisation now seems in jeopardy, as it will have to survive with a budget halved to just £25m.

RDC chief executive, Richard Butt, has taken control of the day-to-day running of the commission, but the Department of the Environ-ment, Transport and the Regions said a new chairman/commissioner would be appointed in the new year.

Tim Yeo, Conservative environ-ment spokesman, said the establish-ment of RDAs effectively ended the distinguished life of the RDC. "This is a disastrous blow, both for the Rural Development Commission and for the countryside."

Ian MacNicol, CLA president, deplored the decision to break up the RDC, but said the RDAs funding commitments should recognise real needs and not be based on historic expenditure.

"We will seek to ensure that the promised rural representation on the agencies is fulfilled and that they fulfil their statutory remit for rural development."

Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, denied the agencies would be urban-orientated, claiming they would continue the work carried out by the RDC, including the farm building restoration scheme, using the expertise of regional RDC staff.

All the agencies, which will have the same boundaries as the govern- ment offices for the regions, will have at least one country/farming board member, while larger geographical areas such as the north west and south west may have more. &#42