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The BBC's Jon Brain in Devon
discusses the proposals outlined by Prince Charles with representatives of the SW rural community
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Tony Burton, CPRE
"We need to avoid business solutions that could cause damage"
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Sean Rickard
is an economist and a government adviser on rural affairs
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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Prince unveils rural action plan
Tractor in a field
Charles says rural problems often go unnoticed
The Prince of Wales has unveiled a rural action plan to help stop the economic decline in the countryside, in the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Prince Charles said the rural way of life was "at risk of collapsing" in the wake of the crisis, which has come on top of rising fuel prices and mad cow disease.

He said: "The future of the countryside is one of the most crucial issues of our time."

Prince Charles
Charles: Calling on businesses to do their bit
The plan has been drawn up by Business in the Community, a networking group of UK companies of which he is president.

It outlines four key areas in which business can make a difference to local communities:

  • Sourcing locally - encourage businesses and the community to buy their food locally.
  • Reviving the fortunes of market towns.
  • Financially support community entrepreneurs who provide leadership in their areas.
  • Creating affordable housing in the countryside.

    He also stressed the need to make "the pub the hub" - encouraging businesses such as pubs to help with the provision of local services like those previously provided by post offices and banks.

    The prince addressed 200 members of Business in the Community on Tuesday, urging them to become more economically involved in their local communities.

    He said the foot-and-mouth crisis had compounded years of economic downturn for people like farmers, who have been hardest hit by the disease.

    The future of the countryside is one of the most crucial issues of our time.

    Prince Charles
    He said: "If foot-and-mouth has taught people anything it is that there is an intimate connection between the land, the animals and themselves."

    He praised rural charities for their work in coming to the rescue of beleaguered farming communities in the wake of foot-and-mouth, but stressed more aid was required.

    He said: "The anguish in the countryside goes on. Help is still desperately needed."

    He said the economic issues facing rural people were not as immediately obvious as those in inner city areas and had therefore not received the same profile.

    Pubs closing

    Prince Charles also insisted the new initiative led to action, not just words and said: "This will not just be a launch, a lunch and a logo."

    Sir Peter Davis, chief executive of Sainsbury's and chairman of BITC, called on all business leaders to support the new initiative, saying: "There are good business reasons for investing in the countryside for the sake of UK plc.

    "It is important we maintain our ability to feed ourselves and produce as much as possible."

    The prince said average farm incomes were now 5,200 per farm.

    Tractors hauls dead carcasses
    Farmers have been devastated by the foot and mouth crisis
    Rural pubs have been closing at the rate of six a week, and the number of smaller local and village shops is declining.

    More than 40% of parishes have no permanent shop and 43 per cent have no post office, he said.

    He said it was important to ensure that people born and bred in the countryside, who wanted to stay there, could find an economic future.

    "The British countryside is only as beautiful as it is because it has been cared for, and lived in, by these people with generations of experience and knowledge.

    "The unique scenery, and the people who live amongst it, are one of the country's most treasured national assets."


    Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said the Prince had articulated the "huge challenge" facing the government over the rural economy.

    He said the timing of the speech - which comes as ministers review their rural strategy - was "very important".

    "There is clearly so much the government has to do in this review to mark a break from the past policies that are so much a cause of the rural crisis," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

    However, the Prince's "prime audience" appeared to be rural communities themselves, he added.

    Prince Charles first became involved in Business in the Community in the 1980s when he urged business leaders to invest in inner city areas.

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