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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 12:07 GMT
Countryside promised a new voice
A farmer feeding sheep
Bureaucracy and confusion in rural services has been criticised
Key rural agencies would merge under government plans to give the countryside a new "advocate".

The new agency would bring together English Nature, most of the Rural Development Service and parts of the Countryside Agency.

The Rural Delivery Bill promised in the Queen's Speech is designed to streamline support for rural areas.

The new agency would act as the expert adviser to ministers and try to ensure new schemes helped rural communities.

Advisory role

Government adviser Lord Haskins produced a report in 2003 saying the current number of rural agencies was confusing and too bureaucratic.

Ministers trailed their plans in their rural strategy earlier this year and are now promising the new law to make them reality.

They say the new agency would "be established as the expert adviser to the government on rural issues, an advocate for rural people, especially those in need".

It would also have responsibility for ensuring the government's rural policies are delivered to the areas for which they are designed.

That role would mean providing measures to make services in rural areas more flexible.

And it would try to simplify existing laws on wildlife and the countryside.

Common land

Some green groups are worried by the merger of the English Nature wildlife watchdog.

But when he proposed the move, Lord Haskins said it would strengthen the body, not axe it.

Also in the Queen's Speech is a draft Commons Bill to protect the common land which is seen as part of rural heritage in England and Wales.

The new law would give farmers with grazing rights on commons the power to regulate their own activities through new Statutory Commons Associations.

The associations would have legal powers to adopt rules through majority votes which would then be binding on all their members.

The bill is also aimed at updating and maintaining accurate records of who owns common land and who can exercise grazing rights.




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