Committee finds rural communities being failed by government

The Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) has urged for a radical change in how the countryside is looked after.

The committee’s 2006 Act reports that the government has diminished the resources given to departments and bodies which protect the UK's natural environment and promote the needs of rural communities, and has urged for the government to appropriately address the negative impact this has had on England's biodiversity, environment and the social and economic welfare of rural areas.

The Lords committee recommends that responsibility for rural affairs should be transferred from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, ensuring rural responsibility sits with those who are responsible for communities as a whole.

Furthermore, Natural England, which has been ‘hollowed out’, should be funded to a level commensurate with the delivery of its full range of statutory duties and responsibilities to reinstate its effectiveness. The abolition of the Rural Communities Policy Unit means that Natural England no longer has the budget or power to effectively and independently regulate government policy.

Lord Cameron of Dillington, chair of the committee, said: "It is clear that the government is failing to take proper account of the needs of rural communities. Departmental decisions and policies continue to demonstrate a lack of rural understanding among Whitehall policymakers. Each and every government department should be required to think about the ways in which their policies affect rural people, and the government must take action to ensure that this 'rural-proofing' of policy happens.

"The committee's overall vision is for balanced protection and promotion of the natural environment and a reversal of the biodiversity decline. This must be coupled with better recognition of the potential of rural communities and the rural economy, and a greater effort from the government to ensure that policy changes do not work to the detriment of rural areas."