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Securing a positive future for Englands upland communities

The English uplands are landscapes that provide a wealth of natural and cultural assets. They also have the potential to generate many valuable public goods and market products, supporting a low carbon future and green economy. Vibrant, secure upland communities hold the key to realising this potential. Unlocking that potential requires government to work with and support local communities and land managers. In particular this means empowering communities, increasing the supply of affordable housing, particularly for young people, and improving access to next generation broadband and mobile communications.

Current support for hill farming is inadequate to sustain these assets. New funding mechanisms are required as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy from 2013. These would reward farmers for managing national assets in harmony with developing businesses. A new approach is needed which would balance the needs of the environment with maximising the economic potential of the uplands. But supporting farmers is not sufficient on its own: the communities in which they are embedded must also be enabled to thrive if these assets are to be sustained.

These are the main findings of the inquiry into the future of upland communities by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) being released today (Tuesday, 15 June).

The inquiry recognised that while farming is essential to maintaining the landscape and managing natural resources, the future sustainability of the upland areas also depends on a thriving business sector. New initiatives are needed to bring together the public and private sectors to create markets for the uplands natural resources, like carbon and water, for the benefit of local communities.

It also calls for a new integrated approach to maximising the potential of these unique and diverse natural assets. At present, the inquiry found a lack of joined-up thinking, with too many of the well-intentioned initiatives having unintended negative consequences for communities, farmers and land owners alike. To remedy this, the CRC recommends the appointment of a single individual who would be responsible for this new uplands strategy.

Dr Stuart Burgess Chairman of the CRC and the Governments Rural Advocate said: Our inquiry has focused on the uplands potential as well as the challenges needing to be tackled. People are essential to the identity and future of the uplands. We have recognised that farmers and land managers play vital roles in looking after these assets, and that many more people enable them to do so as part of the wider uplands economy and society.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way the uplands are viewed. Rather than be seen as areas of disadvantage, they should be considered for their high potential to offer significant public benefits. The continued availability of these benefits is, however, bound up with the wider future of the uplands, and this now needs to be properly recognised.

We found much evidence of initiative and enterprise in the uplands. However, there are threats to this strong sense of community and to the future for the uplands. The recommendations set out in our report can help upland communities to realise their full potential and continue to contribute to national prosperity and quality of life. The scale and range of benefits provided by these areas is significant. With the right support they can deliver even more, and be a model of how government supports community solutions for wider benefit in the future.

High ground, high potential a future for Englands upland communities summary report can be found at:

1 Recommendations

  • Government should develop a comprehensive and integrated strategy for Englands uplands, to protect and maximise the benefits derived from the valuable national assets these areas contain, and recognises that support and investment in thriving upland communities is critical to realising the full potential of these diverse areas.
  • The Government should appoint an individual with lead responsibility for developing and ensuring effective implementation of the new uplands strategy. This individual should be accountable to Ministers of BIS, CLG, DECC and Defra.
  • CLG should take responsibility for ensuring that the recommendations of the CRCs Participation Inquiry (2008) are implemented, and in particular ensure that both central and local government commit to supporting and acting upon very local community plans such as parish plans and market town plans; and encourage local authorities to give neighbourhood budgets to local councillors for expenditure within their areas and for parish councillors to involve local residents more directly in spending decisions using participatory budgeting principles.
  • Current funding mechanisms will not unlock the potential of the uplands and as part of the CAP reform in 2013 and 2020, Defra and its agencies (and the EU) should develop a new approach to rewarding farmers for managing national assets in harmony with developing businesses and market enterprises.
  • Defra should establish a long term land management policy to mitigate carbon loss, particularly in relation to peatlands management. This policy should be informed by the knowledge and capacity that various research programmes have developed in this area.
  • Given the fundamental changes and the provisional budget allocations for the Upland Entry Level Scheme, Defra should review uptake and initial impacts of the scheme by 2012.
  • DECC and CLG should require local authorities to complete an audit of the opportunities for renewable energy to stimulate new enterprise and ensure opportunities for added value are not missed.
  • Cabinet Office should ensure that proper account is taken of the needs and potential of upland communities when developing and delivering the Governments Big Society programme and in particular the arrangements for the voluntary and community sector should be replaced with committed and reliable measures.
  • BIS and Defra (through Broadband Delivery UK) should support the development of creative solutions to deliver Next Generation Access to upland areas, including support for more community broadband schemes, and promoting good practice.
  • CLG should give clear guidance that affordable housing and homes for ‘live-work’ are fundamental to the sustainability of upland communities and to the management of their cultural and natural heritage.

2 Definition of the uplands

There are many ways of defining the uplands. For the purposes of our Inquiry we refer to Englands uplands as an area focused on, but not exclusive to, the Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDAs) identified in the EUs common agricultural policy. To capture the majority of upland communities, and to broaden the range of datasets available to our Inquiry, we have chosen to include some areas of upland fringe, defined as those areas designated as Less Favoured Areas (LFAs) in England (with the exception of the Isles of Scilly). This uses a classification originating from European regulations in keeping with the definitions used by other government departments and agencies.

3 Key facts

  • The uplands and upland fringes cover 17% of England and are home to around 2 million people. There are proportionately fewer residents in the 20-34 age group and more in the over-40 age group than is average for England overall.
  • Manufacturing and the wholesale and retail trade are the main employers in the uplands (34%). Agriculture and forestry employs only 5.2% of people but agricultural businesses are the second most common, accounting for 16% of businesses in the uplands. Sole trader businesses represent a much greater proportion (25%) of businesses than in England as a whole (16%).
  • Twenty-five per cent of the total area of woodland and 70% of UK drinking water is sourced from the uplands. At least 200 million tonnes of carbon are stored in peatlands in Englands uplands.
  • Three-quarters of the uplands is designated as a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and 53% of Englands Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in the uplands. Eighty-two per cent of Englands common land is in the uplands.
  • There are 40 million visitors to Englands upland National Parks each year spending 1.78 billion. Eighty-six per cent of open access land in England is in the uplands.

4 The Commission for Rural Communities is a statutory body funded by government to help ensure that policies, programmes and decisions take proper account of the circumstances of rural communities. We are required to have a particular focus on disadvantaged people and areas suffering from economic under-performance.

In essence, we have three key functions:

  • Advocate: acting as a voice for rural people, businesses and communities;
  • Expert adviser: giving evidence-based, objective advice to government and others; and
  • Independent watchdog: monitoring and reporting on the delivery of policies nationally, regionally and locally.

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