A NEW THINK-TANK for rural issues has been launched at a Rural Regeneration Conference in Westminster.

The Rural Regeneration Council is intended to be an independent voice responsible for representing and articulating economic and social views on key rural topics.

While it will represent the interests of the rural population at large, it will focus particularly on boosting business opportunities in rural areas.

“The continuing prosperity of rural Britain is vital to safeguard communities, the landscape, wildlife and the historic fabric of the countryside,” said the RRC‘s founder Roger Tempest, executive chairman of the company Rural Solutions.

“The economic decline in traditional land-based industries, however, means that rural Britain is facing new challenges, many of which are not understood and not being addressed.”

The RRC has not been set up to represent farming interests, but it will deal with business-related issues of concern to farmers.

It will also promote new business opportunities such as biofuels or new ways of diversifying.

Mr Tempest said he believed the main force driving rural regeneration would not be agriculture.

It was more likely to be the plethora of private businesses which were increasingly establishing themselves in rural areas.

Still, he insisted, this kind of development would be good for agriculture and help ensure its survival.

“To provide a positive climate for growth and development, the countryside needs a more supportive and impartial organisation to provide robust representation,” Mr Tempest said.

The unveiling of the RRC at the conference was largely a scene-setting exercise to gauge interest and feedback, with an official launch likely to take place early next year.

A headquarters for the think-thank has not yet been decided, but the National Rural Enterprise Centre at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire is being considered.

The council‘s membership also needs to be decided, but it will comprise a steering group of six representatives drawn from the rural sectors.