13 April 1998
Labours new deal for rural Britain
Ministers will set out a “new vision” for the countryside in a White Paper on the future of rural Britain.
The document will be a comprehensive statement on all aspects of country life, including housebuilding on greenfield sites, the closure of schools, the shortage of medical facilities, the slump in farm incomes and rural poverty.
Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, said he was prepared to change the law to give ramblers the “right to roam” across open spaces if landowners did not accept a voluntary agreement.
Mr Meacher said government had to do more to strengthen education, medical and transport services in remote places. He also floated the idea of “satellite hospitals” to redress the concentration of medical services in district general hospitals in towns and cities. The minister said he was concerned about the closure of rural post offices and hinted that the 50% rate rebate they currently enjoy might be increased.
Mr Meacher expected that the department of the environment, transport and the regions and the Ministry of Agriculture would be the main authors of the White Paper, which would contain a section on increasing jobs in rural areas. New regional development agencies would be instructed to draw up strategies for tackling rural poverty, and would be given the money, political clout and expert personnel to make a difference.
Next months White Paper would attempt to improve transport services by putting greater pressure on private bus companies.