100 Rural voices call for A Fair Deal for Rural Wales

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1 100 Rural voices call for A Fair Deal for Rural Wales The need The value of rural Wales is unquestionable. 85% of Wales is rural, one third of the Welsh population live there and 1 in 6 Welsh depend on these areas for work. Annually rural Wales contributes 9 billion to our economy. Despite their importance, a disconnection has developed between Wales rural areas and their urban counterparts. Disappointingly the mutually supportive relationship which previously existed has been replaced by a one sided, fragile dependency. Even though Wales most scenic landscapes and seascapes, important wildlife and popular tourist attractions are in rural Wales, its attractiveness often masks some of the most economically and socially deprived areas in the UK. Rural communities are frequently characterised by relative isolation, inadequate facilities and services, poor standards of communication and a lack of affordable housing for local people. Young people in particular are frequently disadvantaged and suffer problems of exclusion, unable to participate fully in community life. Having to travel further and pay more to participate in activities which their urban counterparts take for granted, it is not surprising that young people feel the need to move away from their home area..those living in rural Wales not only have higher living costs and hence more money to exist but frequently have fewer well paid job opportunities, lower wages and less disposable income. The hidden costs of living in rural Wales inevitably means that inconvenience, hardship or dependency on others, are common characteristics of daily life. Because exclusion and poverty is often hard to see and recognise in rural Wales, it is often overlooked As the era of cheap fuel fades, the rationalisation of goods and services accelerates and local administrations struggle with the challenges of reduced finances, those highly dispersed rural communities are finding it increasing difficulty to function. With the rural Wales at the extremities of centralised supply chains and all the significant decisions affecting these communities being taken remotely, their integrity and well being is seriously threatened. Lost in this one-sided rationalisation is the forgotten recognition that rural areas play a vital role in providing the essential goods and services upon which urban areas increasingly depend. As rural life changes, the food, fuel, fibre, clean air and water that the urban populations depend upon, can no longer be guaranteed. Neither can continued access to the open spaces and inspirational benefits that Welsh landscapes provide. To some this process of rationalisation is inevitable. Fewer, bigger and more remote secondary schools, hospitals and superstores and services, combined with seriously escalating fuel costs

2 can however only lead to one conclusion, the closure of more local facilities, more time and money having to be spent accessing these services, greater isolation for the poor and vulnerable and ultimately a further acceleration of rural depopulation. We believe there is no moral or practical reason why this should be the case and those living in rural areas and managing their landscapes for the benefit of their urban counterparts, should be disadvantaged or denied access to the same basic range and standard of every day services which all people need. A time for change A shift in policy is needed which recognises the true value of the rural Wales and halts the decline of rural life. The relationship between towns and the countryside must be imaginatively rebuilt in ways which make our rural communities more resilient, more self reliant, less dependent on remote decision making and extended supply and employment chains. Mutually supportive links between rural and urban places must be properly recognised and strengthened through new forms of contractual arrangements. We believe a series of nested hierarchies of community services and a new approach to promoting the economy of rural Wales must exist, each as self-reliant as possible, but all based on the proximity principle of local production and provision which reflects local needs. This new agenda would also fully recognise the major contribution that many rural areas especially the uplands of Wales make to provision of clean air and water and the personal health and well being benefits that their diverse range of natural and cultural resources and sensitively managed landscapes provide. Retaining the carbon locked in the peat, organic soils and woodlands of rural Wales, is a key to solving our climate change challenges. Our rural areas must also be acknowledged as the bastions of Welsh identity, culture and the Welsh language and properly recognised for the role they play as a pillar for our Welsh identity and sense of national pride. A move towards this socially equitable, low carbon agenda however relies on new approaches to social enterprise and governance in rural Wales. Innovation must be driven by values of personal well-being and resilience rather than the desire for continued economic growth. Without early and imaginative intervention, the prospects facing Rural Wales remain bleak. Opportunities for change are however within the scope and abilities of the Welsh Assembly Government and should a priority for it.

3 A Charter for Rural Places We call upon the new Assembly Administration and all local decision makers to implement a Charter for Rural Places, based on the following five complimentary Pledges. The Status of rural communities 1. Recognise that those living in the sparsely populated areas of rural Wales are legitimate Equality Groups which deserve a fair deal. We believe that in a fair society, it is unjust that when everyone contributes the same to the provision of services and welfare, those in rural Wales receive less of everything and what they do get costs so much more. We believe that this inequity as a matter of principle must be remedied. Standards of services in rural areas 2. Introduce an Universal Rural Service Obligation to guarantee an appropriate range and standard of service provision to all communities throughout rural Wales We want all rural communities to have access to a full range of - Utilities including water, electricity (off-grid as necessary), telephone and reliable IT broadband services. - Primary health care and welfare provision at all stages of their lives and healthy local food. - Golden time response to Emergency services including Police, Fire and Ambulance assistance and publically funded Air Ambulances. - Primary education in close proximity to their place of residence. - Affordable housing and a community meeting place. - Access to special funds to enable needy rural householders and young people, to overcome the financial hardship associated with rural isolation, social exclusion and fuel poverty. - Safe, reliable and affordable community scale transport services. Valuing the public benefits that healthy and resilient rural environments provide 3. Protect the environmental integrity of rural Wales and sensitively manage the life support goods and services that its natural assets provide. We expect all landscapes and seascapes to be cared for and managed sustainably so that their distinctive qualities are protected and not exploited nor degraded for short term commercial

4 gain. Our rural landscapes and seascapes must remain a source of inspiration and challenge and a continuing anchour for our national pride. The Living Wales landscape approach must be implemented and Wales Protected Landscapes and seascapes must be connected more effectively with each other and with the wider countryside which surrounds them. A healthy and resilient Welsh environment should be managed as the engine house and foundation for Wales future economic prosperity and social well being and a platform to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Rural proofing of all decisions 4. Establish a Rural Fairness test in all Assembly Government policy and decisions. We believe that all future policies associated with rural areas, budgetary reduction or realignments of public funds, must not unfairly discriminate or reduce the level of service provision in rural areas and disproportionately further disadvantage the well being of those in need who live in these areas. Establish an influential champion for rural issues 5. Appoint an Advocate for Rural Places in the Assembly Government We want a voice for rural places and people to champion their well being. Our Advocate would advise the First Minister on all rural issues and be directly accountable to him or her. He or she would help tailor and coordinate Assembly policies and programmes so they fully account for rural needs. The individual would ensure that vibrant, thriving and sustainable rural communities become the norm rather than the exception. Our rural champion would convene an Annual Rural Summit to hold the different Assembly Ministers with responsibility for rural issues to account and scrutinise the performance of the Assembly Government s rural agenda. If the Assembly Government s commitment to Sustainability and Equality is to be meaningful, we believe it must rise to these challenges and provide a clear, comprehensive and distinctive commitment to rural Wales. By acting positively the Assembly can provide the vital life lines to maintain the viability of rural communities and the life chances for young people in these areas.

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