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Rural economy needs healthy routes to thrive, says CLA

[Friday 04 February 2011]

The CLA in the North is warning that a combination of rising fuel costs, the threat of reduced bus services, a poor and expensive rail network, and lack of access to fast broadband is threatening to bring economic recovery to a grinding halt.

Douglas Chalmers, Director CLA North said: “The current spate of fuel thefts in rural areas is simply one visible symptom of many more and deeper problems.

“The rural economy is ready and willing to play its part in helping our country trade itself out of recession, but is it able to? At the moment it feels like the opportunities are being blocked at every turn.

“The rural economy provides the nation with much more than quality food and attractive views. It is a hotbed of entrepreneurialism that in terms of economic output punches above its weight, yet is under threat of being stifled because it simply cannot afford to compete, continue or contribute.

“There is no getting away from the fact that roads and the private transport they carry are the lifeblood of the rural economy. Where buses and trains do exist, they are infrequent, expensive and do not offer a real alternative. An increasing number of premises remain unsold or unlet because they cannot access fast, affordable broadband or their location means that raw materials and products would be expensive to move. The simple fact is that if you want to get food on the shelves of our towns and cities, and tourists and clients to rural businesses, the road is the only practical alternative.

“We are already hearing of rural businesses considering relocating. Unsuitable public transport and expensive alternatives prevent people travelling to work, training or education. Rural dwellers also face social exclusion for the same reasons. But we cannot allow this to continue.

“Government must accept that they are in danger of pricing the countryside out of business, and the CLA’s job is to point out that the inevitable repercussions will be felt by the whole economy, and for a very long time.

“We need to address rising fuel prices, reconsider raising rail fares above inflation, and invest in rural transport networks, not reduce them. We also need the option of universal access to fast, affordable broadband. Only then can the countryside play the part that it is so eager to play, and help this country get back on its feet.”

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