Changes in five key areas are needed for a ‘vibrant’ countryside, according to the Countryside Alliance (CA), which has launched a rural manifesto as a prelude to the next General Election. It cites as areas for improvement affordable rural housing, children’s countryside education, support of British farming, the repeal of the Huntng Act, and transport.

CA chairman and Labour MP Kate Hoey says: ‘Our countryside is admired around the world, yet those who live and work there can be forgiven for feeling that at times it doesn’t receive the political support it deserves. We believe rural needs, like urban needs, are about basic rights: equality of healthcare, service provision and good affordable housing, fair markets for farmers and businesses, and freedom to engage in country pursuits without discrimination.’

The CA, which has more than 107,000 members, is calling for Government action on housing, including the reduction to 5% of VAT on repair work and incentives for landowners to offer land for housing at an affordable price. It wants environmental affairs to be more prominent in the National Curriculum and for activities such as fishing to be accessible to disadvantaged children.

The CA suggests that UK and EU farming policies should be ‘future-proofed’ to allow farmers to plan and should pursue the harnessing of renewable energy from farming by-products, plus the mandatory labelling of food with country of origin. It asks for trial projects on fixed-route taxi-bus services and demand-responsive transport, as well as on the viability of local-railway franchises. ‘There is obviously going to be an election within the next 12 months,’ says CA campaigns director Rob Gray. ‘We’ll be presenting the manifesto to Parliamentarians of all parties, as well as quangos.’

The CA wants members to sign up 10 people each, to reach a CA membership of one million (www.countryside-alliance.org.uk).