Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1


  The question of what is "rural" has long been an elusive one. The Countryside Agency and its predecessor body, has used a series of definitions, usually driven more by the availability of data rather than scientific analysis. We know we can do better now, with modern information collection methods.

  The need for a clearer "pure" definition of rural is increasing as new ways of gathering data—by ward and by postcode—are beginning to open up real choices. This will always be difficult. Take, for example, an attempt to define the rural economy. Is it based on the economic activity of the people who live in the countryside—which might be a legitimate goal of a programme to tackle rural employment deprivation? Or is it the sum of economic activity where jobs are plotted over a defined area of land?

  Different bodies have different definitions:

    (a)  The ONS use a socio-demographic approach at both the ward and district/unitary level. This divides the country into "families" that have sub-components eg prosperous. The rural "coverage" is more limited (narrower) in both population captured and areas.

    (b)  Apart from DEFRA who use the Agency's current definition and have indicated that they would take the lead from the Agency in any refinement, the other main government department user of the definition is DTLR. DTLR use a definition of Urban Areas which basically includes built-up urban land of greater than 20 ha. and with a minimum population threshold of 1000. The converse of this is that areas excluded from the urban area boundaries are defined as "rural". In addition, the Local Government Finance section use a population density based sparsity definition for the Standard Spending Assessment.

  As a general rule, the Agency use two main definitions depending upon the level of data available the local authority district (LAD) definition and our rural ward definition.

  LAD definition of rural—this definition uses 1998 district boundaries and is based on the former RDC district definition which is itself based on three other lists: NCVO (Redefining Rural Districts in England), ONS (Classification of Local and Health Authorities) and the former DETR's additional list of rural authorities for the 1995 Rural White Paper. This LAD level definition is often referred to as SOCCODE ie used within State of the Countryside Reports and for the collation of date for our and the RWP indicators.

  The rural ward definition is based on an approach developed by Chandola et al. at Oxford University for analysis of the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Using six socio-economic variables, individual wards within those districts defined as rural through a modelling exercise based on principal components of the local authority based definition ie those characteristics dominant within the 145 districts and unitaries. They are:

    —  population density

    —  economically active people

    —  people who use public transport

    —  people in agriculture, forestry and fishing

    —  people employed in extraction, energy and water industries

    —  and people ethnically non white.

  The variables are found to be robust in differentiating between urban and rural. At present the Agency uses three other definitions of rural, depending on the issue being addressed, the spatial level at which reporting is most useful and the unit of data which is available:

  Non-metropolitan areas—this is used where data are only available for pre 1998 districts, in which case those districts in non-metropolitan areas have been defined as rural districts, and metropolitan districts are consequently defined as urban.

  Tarling definition—this allows the differentiation into five categories—metropolitan, urban, coafield, accessible rural and remote rural. This definition developed for the former RDC in 1993 was used in the PIU report on rural economies and provides a broader definition at the "rural" level but allows a focusing into those categorised as "remoter".

  Rural parishes—the Agency also uses a list of rural parishes based on the former RDC's Rural Services Survey 1997 approach to defining those parishes with a population of less the 10,000 as "rural".

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