Countryside calls for 'levelling up' of the rural-urban divide

NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford. Picture: Pagepix

NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford says government policies need to be 'levelled up' to stop rural areas being disadvantaged - Credit: Pagepix

Farmers and countryside campaigners are calling for a "levelling up" of government policy to stop rural areas being disadvantaged through poor broadband, crime and planning restraints.

A new report by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) says agriculture and rural communities can drive green growth to help the country recover from Covid-19.

But it warns a growing rural-urban divide must be addressed in areas including connectivity and broadband provision which "continues to put rural areas at a disadvantage", funding to tackle rural crime, and a planning system which "too often prevents farm modernisation, diversification and home building for farm workers".

Gary Ford, East Anglia regional director for the NFU, said: “Levelling up Britain is not just a north and south issue, it is also a rural and urban issue.

"No one should be disadvantaged by where they live, or where their business is based.

“As this report demonstrates, investment in farming and our rural communities not only brings about benefits to food production but can have massive benefits for the whole country.

“Farm businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk are well-placed to lead the way if action is taken to tackle issues including inadequate broadband and Wi-Fi, the impact of rural crime, and an unreformed planning system."

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The report, launched at the NFU's annual conference, says rural areas need better broadband and mobile phone coverage so people can run successful businesses, including farm shops, wedding venues and B&Bs that many farmers have diversified into.

The countryside receives less in police funding per head than towns and cities, with an estimated £167 per person in 2018/19, compared with £206 in urban areas, says the NFU report.

But rural areas have increasingly become the targets of criminals, with hare coursing, fly-tipping, dog attacks on livestock, and machinery thefts hitting farm businesses.

Meanwhile, another group of countryside organisations has also called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to do more to tackle "rampant rural disadvantage" in the forthcoming Budget.

Campaigners from Rural Services Network, Britain’s Leading Edge, CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) and English Rural pointed to new economic research which suggests government spending per person on public infrastructure is 44pc higher for urban areas than it is for rural areas.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: "For too long, rural communities have been left out in the cold when it comes to government funding.

"Levelling up against rampant rural disadvantage and unfair funding allocation is a defining challenge of our time."

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