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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 10:56 GMT
Liberal Democrats: Rural and urban affairs

Find out more about Liberal Democrat policies on rural and urban issues.

Urban and rural affairs, excepting food safety, are devolved to the relevant national political bodies. MPs elected to Westminster do not have a say on most of these issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Local government in Wales remains a Westminster matter.


Liberal Democrats say that they want to revitalise the rural economy and ensure that it is environmentally sustainable at the same time.

It says that its priorities are:

  • A physical environment that is managed and protected
  • Rural services which meet the needs of communities
  • Government agencies that help rural communities take control of their own lives

    AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SAFETY

    The European Union's Common Agricultural Policy must be reformed and become a Common Rural Policy - a programme of payments that support economic, environmental and social goals which benefit the wider community.

    The party has proposed a system of Countryside Management Contracts which would financially reward farmers or land managers for meeting certain environmental goals.

    The party says that it would fund early retirement and new entrant schemes to encourage younger people to stay in farming.

    The party wants to encourage more local processing of farm produce ensuring that the added value of food remains in the community.

    Other policies include encouraging the formation of marketing co-operatives and joint ventures between producers and the commercial sector.

    The party also supports government policy to charge the full amount of council tax on second homes.

    On the environment, the party believes that there should be a tax on greenfield development and a strong presumption in planning regulations in favour of conservation.

    Food safety

    The Liberal Democrats believe that the Labour party has failed to adequately tackle the continuing fall-out of the BSE crisis, in particular the refusal of the French government to allow British beef imports.

    The party says that in government it would ensure that the UK made full use of available EU compensation for farmers affected by food safety issues. It also wants to see EU-wide animal welfare and safety standards enforced.

    On genetically modified crops, the party says that it remains sceptical but recognises there are potential advantages from increased yield and other benefits.

    It has called for an EU-wide moratorium on commercial growing until 2003 so that scientists can study crop trials. The party believes that all food products containing GMOs should be clearly labelled.


    The RURAL ECONOMY

    The party wants to establish a UK countryside standing committee which would undertake a continuing evaluation of agricultural issues. There would be a separate ombudsman to adjudicate on disputes over grants.

    Proposals also include a new system to provide advice and assistance for new rural businesses and those that wish to diversify out of food production.

    The Lib Dems say that they would protect small village schools and promote community hospitals. The party proposes that much of the finance needed to protect these public services can be found through reforming current funding formula.

    The rural economy policy would include extending business rate relief to more than 50% to rural post offices and shops that are vital to a community.

    The party says that it wants to encourage volunteering within communities by setting up a network of "time banks". This system would be designed, the party says, to allow people to volunteer to help in one aspect of life in return for help in another or discounts in public services such as transport or sporting facilities.


    HOUSING

    The party opposes much of the policy put forward by Labour in government to tackle the need for new housing.

    The party says that in government it would ensure that 75% of new homes are built on brownfield sites.

    Its proposals include:

  • Making sure that we use empty homes, including what the party says is an estimated 800,000 empty homes in south-east England
  • Encouraging redevelopment of existing housing stock by cutting VAT on renovation to the same level as that for new construction
  • Speed up the current 30-year home insulation programme, financed by energy suppliers to insulate homes within 15 years


    URBAN RENEWAL

    Liberal Democrats have criticised what they say are a myriad of initiatives from Labour in government to tackle urban renewal issues.

    The party says that the current process of bidding for contracts to run schemes is bureaucratic and wastes money.

    It advocates a simplified system under which there would be a single regeneration grant with competition reserved only for the largest projects.

    While the party welcomed elements of the Urban White Paper, unveiled by Labour in government, it says that some key issues have not been tackled.

    This includes equalising VAT on house renovation with that on house building to encourage investment in run-down areas.

    Liberal Democrats also believe that a tax on greenfield site development would encourage renewal of inner cities.

    The party says that it would also support voluntary trading initiatives and arrangements including community banks and credit unions.


    LOCAL DEMOCRACY

    Liberal Democrats want to give local authorities the power to raise more of their money locally.

    It proposes to shift the 80% of local authority funding over time from central taxation to local taxation.

    Local authority funding would be based on two taxes:

  • A local income tax
  • A "Site Value Rating" to replace the Uniform Business Rate

    The party believes that councils should be made "democratically competent" to decide how to organise their own affairs, including greater independence in budgetary decision-making.

    Local elections would use a proportional representation voting system while the introduction of a regional tier of government throughout England would be subject to the approval of people in that area.

    The party believes that many powers currently exercised by unelected bodies (Quangos) should be transferred back to the democratic control of local authorities.

    Other policies include:

  • Freedom of information and open access to all council meetings
  • Council-sponsored surveys of what the people want
  • Annually published performance targets for the next 12 months

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