Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has written exclusively for the Countryside Alliance’s membership magazine ahead of the General Election on 7th May. Mr Clegg joins the Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband in the magazine as each outlines his views on our countryside and the importance of those who live and work there. Mr Clegg writes: Rural Britain is what makes this country the envy of the world. From the beaches of St Ives to the rolling hills of Inverness, we are privileged to have on our doorsteps areas of outstanding natural beauty brimming with wildlife and warm communities who lift your heart whenever you visit. There is no doubt that the British countryside has provided wealth, health and happiness for generations of Brits and tourists.
However when we took office in 2010, two challenges faced rural Britain: An economy left in tatters by Labour; and a Conservative party who sneered at the green agenda.
As a party with environmentalism at the very core of our DNA, we relished the challenge of protecting Britain’s countryside, rebuilding the rural economy, and making Britain greener. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats in government, 95% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) have achieved ‘favourable’ or ‘recovering’ status. We’ve worked tirelessly to protect our bees, launching the first ever National Pollinator Strategy in response to declining bee numbers in Britain. We’ve made resources available to protect communities against future flooding and coastal erosion amounting to £3.2bn over the course of this parliament.
This will protect nearly half a million homes by the end of the decade providing millions of families the reassurances they need. These measures have gone a long way in safeguarding our countryside for generations to come. But there is more to do. Which is why, if re-elected, we will introduce Five Green Laws, setting robust targets for biodiversity, clean air, clean water and access to green space. But to ensure environmental sustainability, you also need a strong economy.
After years of Labour neglecting our local economies, growth in rural areas had stalled. Our ambition is to build a stronger economy, but do it fairly: ensuring that everyone across the country benefits from Britain’s growth. We therefore set out to rebalance the economy, taking money and power out of Whitehall and putting it back into the rural economy.
To deliver this ambition, in my first year in office, I launched the Regional Growth Fund, investing £2.85 billion in regional companies, helping them to create over 100,000 jobs with a further 580,000 expected by 2020. We set about reconnecting communities and revitalising rural infrastructure by investing an additional £11bn in our nation’s road networks, reopening disused railway lines, and rolling out high speed broadband. We reduced administrative burdens that are a recurrent concern for most farm businesses to help farmers and growers compete fairly both within Europe and globally. All these measures have ensured rural Britain not only remains the envy of the world thanks to its outstanding natural beauty and biodiversity, but also thanks to its thriving economy. When the election campaign begins most people will look towards polling day in May. But the fight to protect Britain’s natural environment and the fight to build sustainable rural economies goes far beyond May.
It’s about safeguarding and empowering rural Britain for generations to come, and is a fight we Liberal Democrats will never give up on.