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Devolution to be key element of rural economy boost

Rural communities will see more devolution of power, more connectivity and starter home housebuilding as part of a new rural productivity plan.

The government has vowed to encourage further devolution proposals in return “for strong and accountable local government”, such as by electing a mayor, in order to “boost rural economy”.

It will also amend planning rules to allow communities to build starter homes in rural exception sites for the first time, leading to greater allocation of starter home sites for local residents or employees.

Communities secretary Greg Clark MP said: “All too often young people find themselves exiled from the place they grew up as they are forced to move away to find a home of their own.

“That’s why we’re putting power directly in the hands of rural councils to give the go-ahead for new starter homes in their area so local young first-time buyers can continue to be a vital part of their communities.”

However Steve Reed MP, Labour shadow local government minister, said the new starter homes in rural areas will "replace affordable homes to buy and rent".

"Starter homes should be additional to affordable housing supply, not instead of it. In many rural areas, buying or renting a home has become increasingly unaffordable. Yet the government has undermined the provision of affordable housing at every step by watering down requirements on developers to build new affordable homes.

"We'll also take no lectures on the countryside from a government that has presided over a £1,000 increase in the annual earnings gap between rural and urban areas since 2010, and that plans to allow fracking in national parks," he said.

The plan also outlines changes to rural connectivity and infrastructure such as by working closely with private sector providers to find alternative solutions to broadband access in ‘challenging’ remote areas.

This will include a “new ambition” to deliver high speed broadband to businesses in all ‘enterprise zones’ in rural places, as well as giving them 100% business rate discounts to allow them to save up to £275,000 over five years.

Elizabeth Truss MP, the environment secretary, said: “We’re connecting the countryside to make it just as simple to run a business from Cornwall as it is in Camden. Our plan will help us create thriving towns and villages whether generations of families can open and expand their businesses, buy a home and educate their children at first class schools.”

Connectivity will be further developed by improving transport connections with 15 new routes on the Regional Air Connectivity shortlist to support smaller airports with up to £20m of funding.

Other proposals include increasing ‘fair’ funding for rural schools, helping colleges that are underperforming or ‘coasting’, and working with councils to ensure quality childcare.

The government has also promised to cut corporation tax and ‘red tape’, delivering 98% indoor mobile coverage for 4G by 2017, and tripling the amount of food and farming apprenticeships.

Chancellor George Osborne said: “For too long the British economy has been reliant on businesses based in our cities and towns. We want to create one nation economy that taps into the potential of all parts of our country.

“That means setting the right conditions for rural communities and businesses to thrive, investing in education and skills, improving rural infrastructure, and allowing rural villages to thrive and grow.”


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