What can be done to regenerate the rural economy?
The Green Party’s approach to rural affairs is based on sustainability, localism and communities.
Big agri-businesses and cut-throat supermarkets are making huge profits out of the countryside but as a result many farms are struggling, soil quality is being degraded and rural consumers travel long distances to shop at supermarkets.
Many rural communities are already moving in a ‘green’ (small g) direction with community shops, businesses supplying local organic food, and local provision of goods and services.
The Green Party would encourage and accelerate these trends, which will provide more rural jobs.
How can the character of existing villages be preserved in light of the recent influx of housing developments?
The character of our villages has indeed been threatened by the recent housebuilding frenzy.
The key to not being overwhelmed by this is to build local democracy and community involvement.
There are upsides to a village getting larger, for example more people with talents to contribute to community life and more people to make shops and societies viable.
I would encourage all initiatives to support community life which will help us move towards greater sustainability.
I would also like to see further use of the Neighbourhood Plan approach by which communities can take charge of their future; this useful approach needs further development to simplify the process and give communities more power.
How can oversubscription to schools in the rural areas be resolved?
Over-subscription to schools is due to poor management, the promotion of competition between schools and the weakening of local authority control of education.
All three of these should be reversed and academies brought back into local authority control (this will save money).
By relaxing the crass, counter-productive pressures put on teachers we have the opportunity to improve the quality of all schools so that parents would have no need to shop around for the best school.
This would again reduce carbon emissions from the “school run”.
What would you do to improve access to hospital services for people living in remote rural areas?
Improving access to hospital services is hard and is an increasing problem as the population ages.
Many experts have pointed out that our health system is too hospital focused, both in terms of performing functions which could be carried out in local health centres and also in terms of our focus on “fixing” people rather than on preventative health.
Both these aspects could be changed drastically which would improve overall health, reduce costs and reduce the need for travel to the hospital.
This fits with the Greens’ ethic of localism and sustainability.
How would you improve transport issues for people living in rural communities?
The key to tackling transport issues is a) to reduce the need for transport with local provision of goods, services and employment, and b) to improve public transport (which is going from bad to worse) and reduce road congestion.
We need to improve rural bus services (everyone says that) but we could also look more closely at rail.
There are six railway lines converging on Chester but relatively few local stations – and none between Crewe and Chester.
Re-opening stations at Beeston and Tattenhall would be a start.
A strategic review of local rail transport is long overdue.
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