The final Queen's speech of this Parliament took place on Wednesday 4th June. The Countryside Alliance examined the speech and sent a brief out to Parliamentartians, outlining our concerns and thoughts about the rural issues included in the speech, specifically measures to freeze fuel duty, the Infrastructure Bill and increasing housing supply. Read on for our topline comments.
Fuel Duty Freeze
The Countryside Alliance welcomes the continued freezing of fuel duty. High prices for fuel at the pump hit rural motorists particularly hard. Rural commuters already pay 25% more to travel to and from their workplace than their urban counterparts; travel an additional 10,000 miles to access essential services and are faced with higher prices at the pump because of lack of competition in the local market
The Alliance recognises the need to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning laws to improve economic competiveness, however, this should not be at the expense of the natural environment and local communities. Before any development goes ahead a watertight business case needs to be demonstrated and a full and independent environmental review undertaken, including the impact the development will have on local communities.
• Digital communications: We believe that an opportunity to make improvements to rural mobile phone and broadband coverage has been missed by not including measures to allow faster delivery of these key services within the Bill. Digital communications should be considered as an essential part of our national infrastructure and key to economic growth.
• Shale gas and geothermal sites: We support the need to diversify our energy sources, however any proposals need to be fully scrutinised and local communities should be involved and environmental considerations carefully looked at and met.
• We welcome the introduction of species control orders to control invasive non-native species but these must not impose unreasonable or costly obligations on land managers.
Increasing Housing Supply
There is a desperate need for more affordable housing in rural communities and the Countryside Alliance welcomes the proposals to increase housing supply and homeownership and believes they may help to address the shortfall in rural areas.
However, we have concerns that the Government’s well-meaning proposals to encourage small-scale development by limiting the imposition of Section 106 agreements may risk the continued development of affordable homes in rural areas, as part of smaller mixed developments. We recognise that some developments have been held back by unrealistic and uneconomical agreements, but believe requirements to provide an element of affordable housing under Section 106s must not be lost in rural areas.
In the year 2012/13, Section 106 agreements played an important part in 66% of homes built in settlements of under 3,000 (DCLG figures). Preventing these kinds of developments could be highly detrimental to the provision of affordable housing in smaller rural communities.
All comments to be attributed to Countryside Allaince head of policy, Sarah Lee