At its Autumn Conference in Sheffield this past weekend, the Green Party voted to adopt new policies that address the challenges facing rural communities, as well as strengthening protection for habitats and wildlife.
Keith M Ross of Swansea Green Party said, “Policies that may work in urban areas can be inappropriate in rural areas. The drive for so-called efficiency and cost cutting is leading to many rural communities in Wales and across the UK being left without adequate access to basic facilities. Our policies aim to reverse this trend and reinvigorate rural life.
“We are calling on the governments in Westminster and Cardiff to ‘rural proof’ policies, so that all people in rural areas, not just the economically privileged, can enjoy the same level of essential services as their urban counterparts.”
Caroline Allen, a member of the Green Party’s national Policy Committee who led the policy review, said, “Our new policies aim to revitalise the rural economy without resorting to inappropriate and damaging development.
“People are rightly horrified by coalition proposals for a National Planning Policy Framework. This would simply give developers a green light to concrete over out countryside.
“We would strengthen planning controls for large-scale or damaging land-use changes in the countryside. In addition, we reaffirmed our complete opposition to any sell-off of Forestry Commission land.
“Our policies will support rural communities, create new employment, protect services and ensure that any development is appropriate, sustainable and provides real benefit.
To address the rural housing shortage, the Green Party has proposed a Rural Housing Agency. The RHA would keep housing needs under review, and it would support imaginative schemes to meet these needs in a sustainable and affordable manner.
The Greens want to see more government action to stop the loss of essential facilities like health centres, schools and post offices.
The Green Party voted to encourage agricultural employment through greater access to land for new entrants and securing long-term local markets.
The party also recognised the potential of non-agricultural rural enterprise, including recreation and tourism, renewable energy, home working and Internet-linked enterprise.
Too much rural employment is characterised by low pay and seasonal work. Improved employment opportunities, particularly for young people in rural areas, are essential. Currently, over 20% of 16-24 year olds in rural areas are unemployed. Most worryingly, many of these young people are not receiving any continuing education.
The Greens are opposed to any sale of Forestry Commission land and would strengthen planning controls for large-scale or damaging land-use changes in the countryside.
Other policies included in the countryside policies passed at the Autumn Conference included:
• Giving greater protection to wildlife and extend a basic level of habitat protection to the whole countryside.
• Linking national parks and conservation areas to create a wider network of areas with high conservation value.
• Protecting and maintaining existing rights of way and providing wider public access to the countryside.
• Ensuring that tourism and recreation development is sustainable and benefits local economies.