Bill to give countryside more powerful voice

A bill to modernise and simplify arrangements for implementing policy on rural communities and the natural environment has been presented in draft to Parliament this week.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett encouraged everyone with an interest in rural disadvantage and the natural environment to engage constructively in improving the bill.

She said that current pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee would also help to create strong legislation with widespread support.

“This bill will be key in delivering our commitment to a better quality of life for all with sustainable development at its heart,” Ms Beckett stated. “The new integrated agency will lead the way in delivering an accessible and high-quality natural environment contributing to the enjoyment and well-being of current and future generations.”

An inclusive approach would be taken throughout the legislation’s development, according to Ms Beckett, and once passed, the bill would:

  • Create an agency providing an integrated approach to sustainable land management, enhancement and use of the natural environment;
  • Formally establish a new Commission for Rural Communities that would act as an expert adviser, advocate and watch-dog;
  • Provide the Secretary of State with powers to directly fund activities within Defra’s remit;
  • Make powers to delegate EFRA functions by mutual content;
  • Create powers to take forward the findings of a forthcoming review of Levy Bodies.

    The bill would act as a central part of the government’s Rural Strategy and would contribute to priorities set out by Defra in its five-year strategy plan.

    EFRA will shortly be inviting interested parties to submit written evidence, following its pre-legislative scrutiny.

    “Rural communities deserve the very best services,” Ms Beckett said. “Rural people will be given a more powerful voice of their own to ensure that policies do deliver and improve the lives of everyone that lives in, works in or visits the countryside.”

    By Jane Kettle

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