§ Alun Michael
Since publishing the Rural White Paper on 28 November 2000, we have taken decisive steps in delivering the plans we set out to develop and maintain a living, working, protected and vibrant countrysideWe have provided substantial extra funding to boost basic local services, such as rural schools, policing, local post offices, child care and rural transport;To help local services we have extended mandatory 50 per cent. rate relief to include sole village public houses, petrol stations and village food shops;We are helping to rejuvenate over 100 market towns by funding projects to stimulate thriving rural economies;Earlier this month we published plans to improve the quality and effectiveness of town and parish councils as part of our commitment to give rural communities a stronger voice; andWe have just published the first draft maps for the new rights of access for walkers.
Although alleviating the devastating effects of foot and mouth disease dominated our work for many months, a great deal has been accomplished. But there is still a lot more to be done. The creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is bringing a new focus and drive to the Government's policies for rural England. Together with partners, we are working to deliver a better future for all those who live, work in and visit the countryside. We will be publishing a full progress report in December. Our key achievements include:increased funding for rural schools, including the £80 million per year (2001–02 to 2003–04) Small Schools Fund to help resource sharing, administrative support and adoption of new technology;an additional £15 million in 2000–01 and £30 million in 2001–02 and 2002–03 to tackle the extra cost of policing in rural areas; also the launch on the on-line Rural Crime Toolkit, drawing on examples of good practice in rural policing;a new £2 million fund, now open to applications, to support community-driven projects to refurbish and improve rural sub-post offices—one part of the Government's commitment to maintain a national post office network;help to establish 8,728 new child care places in the rural counties of Cornwall, Devon, Durham and Lincolnshire in 2000–01;increased investment in wider health and social services which is expected to be of particular benefit to people in rural areas—for example, the programme to establish 100 new primary care one-stop or mobile units, as well as 5,000 intermediate care beds, 860W many in local facilities such as cottage hospitals by 2004. The NHS Direct service, now running throughout England, also offers a major benefit to people living in more remote and rural areas;£62 million to improve rural bus services in 2001–02, with a total of £239 million allocated over the next three years for new and improved rural travel services;the Housing Corporation exceeded their target of approving 800 affordable homes in rural settlements last year by more than 200 (1,003 approvals), and have increased their target for this year to 1,100 rising to 1,600 by 2003–04;new Countryside Agency grant schemes in operation: £15 million Community Service Grants fund to help safeguard or re-establish basic village facilities; £15 million Parish Transport Fund for small-scale, locally generated transport solutions; and £5 million Parish Plans Fund to help around 1,000 communities prepare their own village or town plans;new legislation, in force from August, extending 50 per cent. mandatory rate relief to village food shops and new small-scale, non-agricultural enterprises on farms. This is additional to extending 50 per cent. relief to sole village pubs and petrol stations in April;selection of over 100 towns to benefit from a £100 million market towns regeneration programme to which the Government have allocated £37 million. Changes have also been made to planning policy guidance on transport (PPG13) to emphasis the role of market towns as hubs for jobs and services;changes made to planning policy guidance on the countryside (PPG7) giving stronger support to farm diversification and clarifying guidance on best and most versatile (BMV) land;publication of a consultation paper on Quality Parish and Town Councils, seeking views on plans to give councils an enhanced role for their communities; andpublication of the Countryside Agency's 'Policy Maker's Checklist' in April, to assist Government and their agencies "rural-proof' policies, now part of the Cabinet Office's rapid policy makers' checklist.