MPs, diocese and rural agencies hold landmark conference on rural issues

RURAL communities took centre stage at an event attended by MPs, the Bishop of Ripon, James Bell, and charity and voluntary sector professionals.

Community and faith leaders, joined with agencies and farmers from across the width and breadth of Yorkshire at the ‘Rural Matters’ conference held in East Keswick, north of Leeds and put on by charity Rural Action Yorkshire. They heard about issues directly affecting the livelihoods of those in the countryside including cuts to transport, affordable housing, fracking, the DEFRA 10-point plan, and broadband access.

Taking part in a Question and Answer panel with Bishop James were, (lt to rt), Libby Bateman of the Countryside Landowners Alliance, Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton and Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness.

On the subject of environmental issues including fracking, Bishop James said, “We must think now about how we produce the energy we need in order to live, or how we change our lifestyles so that future generations are not exhausted of natural resources. Do we need to live in such an energy-dependent way?”

Other speakers came from a different perspective.   Graham Stuart MP, encouraged a calm approach to the technology and said that all applications for fracking should be a matter for local people to decide. He emphasised that all aspects of the process would be stringently monitored and regulated by independent bodies.

Bishop James is also a patron of Dementia Forward, and talked of the ‘ageing congregation’ which he so often hears mentioned. He noted that it is important to remember the contributions that all people have to make to society and community.

 “People are a resource, not a problem” he said. “We should celebrate the knowledge, wisdom, and experience that older people have to give us, rather than talking about them in negative terms as a drain on our health services and a burden in our communities.”

On the same subject, Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: “Rather than cutting services we should look at more cost-effective ways of managing governance. In terms of older people, we should look at what the government can do, alongside communities, to ease the demand for services.

 “Greater integration of health and social care, as well as encouraging and sustaining friendship lunches, local groups, and support to rural GPs can make for a more efficient process.”

The DEFRA 10-point plan was a popular topic with the audience, but it was noted that the plan would need to be both measurable and also driven so that it will achieve its outcomes. Bishop James commented that the plan did not always pay heed to farming and that any plan would need to consider both farming and countryside management.

Rural Action Yorkshire (RAY), who hosted the event, also held their AGM on the same day.  The charity continues to undertake lobbying and campaigning on behalf of rural communities.

Leah said: “We were really pleased with the turn-out today which demonstrates that rural really does matter, and we want to give our thanks to the panel for giving time in their busy lives to speak to our members.

“RAY continues to campaign for the awareness of rural issues – the challenge for us and our members is that the rural voice is heard at all levels of government, regional and national.”

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