In a new report, the Rural Coalition, which includes the CPRE, Action with Communities in Rural England, the CLA and other leading organisations, has called on the Government to deliver Big Society in rural villages and empower local people.

In its report, The Rural Challenge, coalition warns that, without radical action, rural services face a crisis as spending is cut, house prices are skyrocketing and rural wages are lagging 20% behind urban averages.

The report sets out proposals for meeting the five main challenges the countryside is facing: meeting rural housing needs, building thriving economies, delivering good rural services, creating flourishing market towns and empowering local communities.

Key recommendations include urging the Government to give local councils more independence, transform planning practice to give communities the lead and scrap the referendums in the Community Right to Build scheme, as the requirement for 90% support could create conflict within communities.

Matthew Taylor, chairman of the coalition, commented: ‘On its current course, with no change in policy and no commitment to action, much of the countryside is becoming part dormitory, part theme park and part retirement home. We need a fundamental change of approach at both national and local levels to give rural communities a more sustainable future.

‘The Rural Coalition believes the Government’s commitment to localism and the Big Society opens the door to those reforms-but, as yet, there is a very real risk that, in practice, cuts will fall heaviest in rural communities, which may lose services altogether, and opportunities will be missed to make rural communities prosper.

‘For 50 years or more, policy has undervalued the countryside and failed to meet the needs of rural communities. The result is starkly apparent: rural communities have become increasingly less sustainable and less self-sufficient. Today, we publish a blueprint for the Big Society in small places-if the Government is serious about localism, it should rise to the challenge.’

Henry Robinson, vice-president of the CLA, added: ‘Some rural communities have become unsustainable because of a negative approach to development. The planning system has been used as a brake on appropriate and much-needed development in the countryside in the misplaced belief that this supports communities and the environment.

‘The needs of rural communities for better jobs, housing, transport, services and leisure are similar to those in urban areas. Yet many in the countryside feel they are not receiving the benefits of national economic growth, and that Government does not fully understand the relationship between rural businesses, rural life and the environment.’

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