WE have an abundance of them across the Yorkshire Dales, adding charm, character and economic well-being to the area - and this week has seen delegates from six European countries gathering in Harrogate for a major conference on how market towns can be used to further boost the rural economy and foster understanding between city-dwellers and country-folk.
URBAL highlights importance of market towns such as
The aim of the URBAL project is to strengthen the relationship between urban and rural areas in a way which benefits both.
Already in North Yorkshire, local produce has been used as a mechanism for bringing together urban and rural residents. Initiatives such as the Limestone Country Beef project, which is now providing an important source of income for hill farmers and allowing consumers to connect their food to where it actually comes from, is a prime example.
Other URBAL partners have developed tourism projects encouraging town dwellers to walk or cycle along country roads, meeting local people, and using local businesses.
The aim is not only to draw urban wealth into rural areas but also to promote a better understanding of the issues each community faces; a major complaint among country dwellers here in the UK is that "townies" simply do not understand the needs of those of us living and working in rural areas such as the Dales.
This conference highlights the importance of the rural economy to its urban surroundings
Theo Rietkerk - URBAL Partnership
Theo Rietkerk, the URBAL lead partner, from the Province of Overijssel, in The Netherlands, said: "The Province of Overijssel sees the Urbal project as one of the most innovative projects in trans-national cooperation. This conference highlights the importance of the rural economy to its urban surroundings."
John Weighell, the leader of North Yorkshire County Council, commented: "There is no better example of international co-operation than the Urbal project run by North Yorkshire County Council in the form of the two day Skipton international rural market.
"Producers from all the Urbal countries participated, as well as large numbers of North Yorkshire traders. That co-operation has continued and provided new markets for all the Urbal partners."
The key speech on the importance of the market town was delivered by John Mills, director of rural policy at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Other speakers included economists and planners.