Saturday, June 22, 2024

Environment minister plea to ‘unleash rural opportunities’

Former Newbury MP and current environment minister Richard Benyon says protecting the countryside can go hand in hand with “unleashing rural opportunities”.

He says building affordable homes that people need, speeding up broadband connectivity, improving local transport services, diversifying rural businesses and giving new life to redundant buildings can all play their part in strengthening countryside communities.

The minister made the comments at the countryside charity, CPRE Berkshire’s AGM.

Lord Benyon’s speech included a plea to promote responsible enjoyment of the countryside.

“As a nation we need to ‘re-connect’ people with their local countryside – and especially our children,” he said. “Nature heals, it offers innate joy, a sense of wellbeing. Perhaps we need to start measuring happiness in the same way we measure GDP.”

He also highlighted the importance of farming and countryside management to the wider economy.

He added that the security of the nation’s food supplies is vital.

“In this country we currently produce 62 per cent of what we eat, but we can produce 75 per cent or more,” he added. “We have to think 20, 30 or 50 years ahead and look at ways to improve national resilience.”

He added that the Government is concerned to strengthen the rural economy and “encourage the next generation of people from farming families to stay in the family business and allow them to embrace the new world of agriculture”.

Meeting local housing needs will also be crucial to rural communities and this requires cooperation between parishes and local builders, with a commitment to building so that new homes look right in their rural settings.