UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 714 iv

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

ENvironment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Rural Communities

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Tony Gates, Paul Hamblin and Neil Sinden

Councillor Roger Begy OBE and Sonia Mangan

Evidence heard in Public Questions 274 - 358

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 9 January 2013

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Richard Drax

George Eustice

Barry Gardiner

Mrs Mary Glindon

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie

Dan Rogerson

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Tony Gates, Chief Executive, Northumberland National Park Authority, Paul Hamblin, Director, English National Park Authorities Association, and Neil Sinden, Policy and Campaigns Director, Campaign to Protect Rural England, gave evidence.

Q274 Chair: Good afternoon, gentlemen. You are all extremely welcome. In welcoming you, I should just explain that we will have to break. Hopefully, there will be a natural break at four for the vote, for which we apologise in advance. We thank you for participating this afternoon in our inquiry on rural communities. May I ask you just to introduce yourselves, for the record? Give your names and positions, please.

Tony Gates: I am Tony Gates, the Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority.

Paul Hamblin: I am Paul Hamblin. I am Director of the English National Park Authorities Association.

Neil Sinden: I am Neil Sinden. I am Policy and Campaigns Director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Q275 Chair: Thank you. You are extremely welcome and I am delighted to say that I do have a large chunk of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in my constituency. Can I just ask: are you comfortable with the new rules that have been announced regarding the provision of broadband and the placing of infrastructure in National Parks?

Paul Hamblin: Perhaps I can kick off on that one. I think it needs to be made absolutely clear that the National Park Authorities really want to see the rollout of broadband and mobile telecoms and we are absolutely with the Government in terms of that intention. You asked specifically about the proposal within the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to remove the "have regard" duty, currently Clause 8 of the Bill. I have to say that we do have concerns about that Clause, principally because of the precedent that it potentially sets for future legislation in weakening the protection for National Parks and, indeed, for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, too. So we look to this proposal and want to understand where it has come from and what the evidence is to support the need, because, as I said, we are very keen to see the rollout of broadband and we are not clear why this has come forward. The evidence that DCMS has published provides 20 examples of considered delays that the industry has provided to DCMS. None of those are within National Parks and we do not believe that any of them are in AONBs. In contrast, National Park Authorities-we are the planning authority, so we receive applications, both prior notifications and planning applications-overwhelmingly support the proposals that come forward. Over the last five years, National Park Authorities have received 140 planning applications in this area and only three were refused.

Q276 Chair: We did receive an assurance from the Minister responsible in his evidence to us that there would be codes of practice and there would be reassurances. Are you content with those reassurances on the basis of what you have heard?

Paul Hamblin: We have heard about the codes. Certainly, our main message to the operators would be to work with the National Park Authorities, with the planning process. We already have an accord with the mobile phone operators, and that is working very well and demonstrating how we can see new technology come in to sensitive environments through winwin solutions, and that has been very much around engaging with the industry. We have not had discussions with DCMS about the code, so we very much look forward to seeing what there is and, hopefully, to some engagement prior to proposals coming out.

Neil Sinden: If I could just add to that, from a CPRE perspective, we are very concerned about the provisions in the Bill, the Clause 8 provisions, which would effectively delete the "have regard" duty in relation to this form of development. Not only are we as concerned as ENPAA are that this provision is based on a lack of evidence of need, we also believe that it is a sledgehammer to deal with what may be-but we doubt it-a very small problem. So we are equally concerned, and also we would point to the fact that, in relation to mobile phone development, similar provisions to, if you like, ease the rollout of mobile phone coverage were dealt with in a very different way not many years ago. That did not require changes to primary legislation, but were associated, as my colleague Paul has said, with the introduction of a code of practice, and that approach has worked particularly well there. We can see no reason why it could not work well with the broadband rollout.

Tony Gates: To move on from the fact that we do not feel that Clause 8 is necessary, we still have concerns over whether our more remote rural areas will be adequately served with broadband. We have concerns that the BDUK scheme will not reach many parts of our National Parks. In addition, we feel that the rollout of the Defra rural broadband scheme itself may have some problems and could be enhanced. So we have concerns as to at what stage-when-the rural areas within our National Parks will be served by broadband.

Q277 Chair: But are you prepared to take the infrastructure in your National Park?

Tony Gates: Absolutely. Not only are we prepared to take the infrastructure, but National Park Authorities have been very actively advocating working at a local level, in many cases working with communities to get communities to sign up for the broadband scheme. So we are very active advocates, and as my colleague Paul said, there is no evidence that planning restrictions within National Parks are a barrier to the rollout of broadband. In fact, as National Park Authorities, we would argue that is not where the risk to the rollout of broadband within our deep rural areas lies.

Q278 Chair: Could I just turn to the mobile phone coverage? Is there any evidence that emergency services or the reporting of an accident are hampered in National Parks through the poor coverage?

Tony Gates: There are areas within individual National Parks where you cannot get mobile phone coverage. As National Park Authorities, we have indicated that we are willing to work with mobile phone companies to get that infrastructure in. Some National Parks, in fact, have lobbied mobile phone companies actively. I am thinking of Exmoor and the settlement of Lynton, where Exmoor National Park actively lobbied to get additional phone masts in because of the poor reception.

Q279 Chair: Are you finding that is meeting with success?

Tony Gates: In that case, it did, yes, and in other cases we have been able to demonstrate where National Park Authorities, proactively speaking with mobile telecommunication companies, have been able to find sensible solutions and, in some cases, lower cost solutions to providing infrastructure. In one case, instead of having one large mast, two smaller aerials were put in place to provide coverage in an area that was particularly difficult. So what we are saying is that National Park Authorities are very keen that this technology is delivered within National Parks, and the reason we are keen is because viable and sustainable rural communities are critical to the future of our National Parks. Those communities have shaped the Parks and will continue to shape them in future. The future of our National Parks is not secure without viable rural communities, and so we are active advocates for this technology, but we are doing it with the grain of National Park legislation, and I believe, Chair, that we have demonstrated, as National Park Authorities, that we can do that.

Q280 Chair: Do you have representations from tourism businesses and others-farms-in the National Park that they are being hampered by the lack of broadband and mobile phone coverage?

Paul Hamblin: Certainly, a number of the National Park Authorities have forums in a variety of different ways that provide opportunities for good dialogue between the National Park Authority and businesses, and, yes, we are hearing messages that they want to see the rollout of coverage. I should say that it is as much about the coverage and dealing with notspots as it is about speed. I think a lot of the focus has been on speed, but we do need to ensure that people are not left out and businesses are not disadvantaged as well.

Neil Sinden: The only thing I would like to emphasise, if I may, is this important point of principle that Paul talked about in the beginning, which is that we do not need to sacrifice attention being paid to the value of natural beauty in our finest landscapes in order to achieve the objectives we all share of getting broadband rolled out effectively. That is a critical point that the CPRE, at least, will be pursuing in debates on the Bill.

Q281 Ms Ritchie: Do you believe that Defra is doing enough to ensure that across Government the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are protected?

Neil Sinden: It is very difficult to say. In terms of some of the debates that we have been involved in recently that have been stimulated, for example, by the Government’s planning reform agenda-I am thinking back in particular to the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework last year-there was considerable concern that the objectives that we thought Defra ought to be advocating within Government about the value of the wider countryside, but also the value of our most precious landscapes such as National Parks and AONBs, should be effectively addressed within the concepts of the new planning framework. I think we would say that we were pleased with some of the improvements that were made to the final framework as a result of the efforts of CPRE and others and, we suspect, as a result of the efforts of Defra in terms of internal Government discussions. So, on that particular example, perhaps we can be broadly positive about the work that Defra was doing to ensure that our finest landscapes are safeguarded.

We have concerns, however-and this brings us back to the previous point that I was making about the provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill and particularly in relation to Clause 8’s proposal to disregard the "have regard" duty in relation to National Parks-that this is a signal that Defra is not winning the battles that it needs to within Government to ensure that we get those areas effectively protected and the economic outcomes that we share.

Paul Hamblin: In terms of the balance sheet, if you like, we would say that the publication of the National Parks Circular provides strong, comprehensive support to National Parks and sets out very clearly the need to protect them as well as, as my colleague Tony has said, the importance of supporting those rural communities. The National Planning Policy Framework, the final document that was published, also gives the necessary protection that was at risk from the previous draft. Just simply to reinforce what Neil said in terms of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, there is very little legislation protecting National Parks. Quite a lot of it is through policy announcements and one of the things about the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is that the legislation would override such policy commitments and, therefore, that does pose a potential threat.

Tony Gates: I would say, as Paul said, largely the balance sheet is positive. Government and the legislative basis going back to the 1949 Act is largely protective and supportive of National Parks. I think we are not realising all of the potential that National Parks have to enrich society. While there are strong relationships and recognition of National Parks within some key Government departments-Defra, CLG-there is potential within some other Government departments, for example the Department of Health and the role that National Parks can play in a healthier society, where I think we could gain even more.

Q282 Ms Ritchie: As a follow-up to that then, are you satisfied, first, with the level of engagement you have had with the Rural Communities Policy Unit in Defra and, second, that your concerns have been taken on board by them? I think, by and large, you are saying that you are.

Neil Sinden: Your initial question related to Defra. It is still quite early days with the new unit. I think it is a year and a half old, a bit more maybe, and I think it is fair to say that staffing changes in early months did create a bit of a problem in terms of engaging with the right people on the right issues. But I should say, from a CPRE perspective, through our individual, direct engagement we have had a number of very useful meetings on a range of issues with staff in the unit since it has been created. We are also members of the Rural Coalition; the Rural Coalition of organisations has a very good interface with staff at the unit and meets them fairly regularly. So, in terms of access, I think it has been encouraging, but it is important to recognise that the unit itself has a rather narrower remit than Defra as a whole in terms of, particularly, the issue of landscape protection and National Parks that we have just been talking about.

I would also like to put in a bit of a word for other protected areas, the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which, at least in natural beauty terms, are equivalent in status to National Parks. I think there are some questions there about how much attention or importance is attached to the valuable contribution that those designations make to the overall quality of the countryside and whether policymaking perhaps is not giving due regard to the significance of those areas and also the wider countryside; what you might call the unprotected countryside-the countryside that does not benefit from national protective designation. This wider countryside is the vast majority of the English countryside. It is of great value, even though it is not recognised through National Park status or AONB status. In all sorts of ways, it is of value, and our concern-and it was a particular concern in relation to the National Planning Policy Framework-was that the importance of the wider countryside to the nation was not being effectively addressed through the planning reforms. We made that case to Defra and to other Government Departments, and we think that some improvements were secured in the final format, as I say, of the National Planning Policy Framework, but I think we ignore the importance of the wider countryside at our peril.

Paul Hamblin: Briefly, in terms of access, I think we had, from a National Park perspective, good access and engagement prior to the publication of the Rural Economy Growth Review. Since then, I would say that access has been less. I would probably characterise it as there being opportunity there that has not been fully realised. I think National Park Authorities can provide evidence of what is going on on the ground. We are the first point of contact with many rural communities and businesses. We can act as pilots and obviously we have a link in to Defra. So there are opportunities there, and I would say we are not currently realising all of those opportunities at present.

Q283 Barry Gardiner: Could I just ask you what, if anything, has been lost with the demise of the Rural Advocate and the work that Stuart Burgess used to do with the Commission? Do you feel that the RCPU is really qualitatively and quantitatively different from what went before and, if so, how? What has changed and how have things either improved or not?

Neil Sinden: I think the changes have been significant. I think the fact that now we have a unit within a Department means that we have less transparency, I would argue, about the way in which the rural evidence base is developed and articulated and applied to policy development. I think we have less independence and freedom of manoeuvre as well. I think the Rural Advocate and the Commission previously were able to investigate issues that they felt were significant and bring those issues to the attention of Government in a way that I do not think the unit is necessarily going to be easily able to. I think simply in terms of resourcing there are vastly fewer resources both in terms of staff and finance going into these rural issues through the unit. So I think there are significant differences in a number of respects.

Q284 Barry Gardiner: So, less independence, less resource and more central control.

Neil Sinden: I would say less freedom, clearly, and therefore I think it behoves organisations like CPRE, perhaps ENPAA and other members of the Rural Coalition to step up to the mark and play a stronger role in terms of bringing evidence to bear on policy development and policymaking. But I think it would be wrong to pretend that the unit is in any way a replacement to what was an arm’s length and independent body.

Tony Gates: I think the point I would emphasise would be one around capacity and visibility. Previously, there was more capacity there and the work was very visible; it was very engaging, particularly in terms of collecting evidence in rural communities, finding real case studies, bringing good practice to the fore and highlighting where things were not working. From my perspective as a National Park Chief Executive, our level of input to that type of work has dropped off and so the visibility that was there previously is not there.

Q285 Richard Drax: On to the Rural Statement, if I may: Mr Sinden, you said here, "Some of the recent misinformed attacks on the planning system from the Treasury and elsewhere show that the Government has some way to go in understanding that a healthy economy and environment go hand in hand." That was a quote from you. If I just put this question to you first: do you think that the Rural Statement gives enough consideration to the natural environment and, if not, what would you have liked to see included?

Neil Sinden: I think you have quoted back to me a statement that we issued on the day of the publication of the Rural Statement, and I think it perhaps reflects on the negative rather than the positive aspects of our reaction to the statement, so I would want to put on record that we welcome the publication of the Rural Statement. We thought that it was very good to the extent that it identified and recognised the great significance of the problem of affordable housing in rural areas. It was also very good in terms of promoting and recognising the benefits of and opportunities for improving walking and cycling, for example, in rural areas for health and other reasons.

But, as you have indicated, we were concerned and we have been concerned for some time-we were concerned about the Commission for Rural Communities record on this issue-that, in addressing the challenges facing rural communities, there is a great danger in ignoring the importance of the natural environment to those communities and the opportunities that presents in terms of sustainable rural economic development and social improvement as well as, perhaps, the constraints it necessarily imposes where the value and importance of protecting the natural beauty of the wider landscape is perhaps greater than the economic and social agendas that exist there. So we were concerned that the Rural Statement did not put enough emphasis on the natural environment element, and we have been, in our discussions with the unit and with Defra more widely, trying to advocate a more balanced approach to addressing the needs of rural communities, taking account of environmental issues as well.

Q286 Richard Drax: What specifically would you like to have seen included?

Neil Sinden: Well, for example, CPRE has been doing a lot of work over the past few years on the issue of local foods. We think that local food production-which makes an underrecognised contribution to the overall health of the rural economy and, indeed, the wider economy-is an issue that can enable us to secure wins for the environment, the economy and the social agenda in rural areas, for example, by promoting wider access in local high streets to local food production and supporting local food producers, who themselves can improve the environment by effective landscape management and sustainable agricultural practices. That was an area that we felt could have been emphasised more in the Rural Statement, which would have brought in the natural environment agenda. I think we would also argue that recognition of the value of the landscape, the landscape character and the quality of the local rural environment and the extent to which that enables other businesses to thrive, particularly rural tourism businesses, needed to be given greater recognition. Of course, the statement talked about tourism in a small way, but it did not really make the link with the quality of the natural environment being a key source for rural tourism activity.

Paul Hamblin: I think we were pleased to see quality of life included as one of the overarching themes in the Rural Statement, but, as Neil has set out, when the Natural Environment White Paper was published it very clearly articulated the link between sustaining a high-quality environment and the economic benefits that come from that. That is something that National Park Authorities recognise and support and want to see taken forward. The Rural Statement provided a collection of a very wide range of different measures that were being undertaken, but they were rather a statement of what is already happening. I think the critical thing, going back to the earlier comments about visibility of the new unit, will be what the additional hooks are to ensure that rural issues are fully embedded not only in Defra’s work but in other areas of Government, too.

Q287 Richard Drax: What would you like to see specifically included in addition maybe to Mr Sinden’s home-grown vegetables and other things?

Paul Hamblin: Perhaps if I can pass over to my colleague, who helped. We made, and we would be happy to provide it to the Committee, a submission to the Rural Economy Growth Review, which covered a number of these points.

Tony Gates: I think we welcome the references; there were some references to tourism within the statement. References to National Parks tend to be limited in some cases to tourism and I think we find that frustrating, at times, from a National Park Authority perspective, because the economy within National Parks is not just linked to tourism; there is a whole landbased economy and, in some National Parks, forestry. But beyond that, there is quite a diverse economy within many of our National Parks that is based, in some cases, on specialist manufacturing and on services, and I think we would like to see, from a National Parks perspective, the potential for those areas recognised more in terms of economic growth.

Q288 Richard Drax: Mr Sinden, in your written evidence you said it was important for the Rural Statement to "express how its success will be measured". Does it do this?

Neil Sinden: I do not think it does. I think this comes back to the point that Paul made about the statement perhaps being more of a collection of existing measures and activities that are taking place and less of a framework for measuring progress and achievement as a result of the delivery of those measures and those initiatives. So, if I have understood your question correctly, I do not think it provides an adequate basis upon which we can measure the effectiveness or success of Government policy in relation to rural development and rural community issues.

Q289 Richard Drax: Just very briefly, to add on to that, what power does the Rural Statement provide for rural communities to hold the Government to account? Does it?

Paul Hamblin: I think that is a bit of a difficult question for National Park Authorities to respond to in terms of holding the Government to account. Certainly, we feel very much close to our own rural communities and accountable to them. So I do not think I have more to add in terms of the Rural Statement.

Chair: I think we need to move on, if we may, and turn to affordable housing.

Q290 Neil Parish: On Exmoor, for instance, the price of a house is 14 times greater than the income, so affordable homes are very important. My question is: the Government accepts the need to protect rural exception sites in the provision of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill that allows renegotiations of Section 106 agreements. What do you consider is the minimum protection? This is particularly to the National Parks, because a lot of this renegotiation of 106 agreements is where perhaps you have 20 houses for normal sale and then you have perhaps 10 houses for affordable homes, whereas a lot of the sites, I suspect, on National Parks are very much exception sites. Perhaps you could clarify your position on that.

Paul Hamblin: The Government, as you indicated in your question, has understood the particular circumstances facing National Parks and, indeed, some other areas, too, regarding the reliance on rural exception sites. Those are absolutely critical for National Parks for the delivery of local needs-affordable housing-so we were concerned when the Growth and Infrastructure Bill brought forward the measures that it does about the renegotiation of Section 106 with the implication that, frankly, you were going to reduce the number. There were some other options presented, but that was the tenor of the proposals, so we are pleased that Government is seeking to introduce an amendment to exempt rural exception sites from the Bill.

If I can just broaden my answer out slightly though, the fact is, as you said, land prices-hope value-would be huge in National Parks, so it is very important to have a very clear, robust policy that ensures that, with the exception of very few sites for larger development in some National Parks, where that is possible, the vast majority is going to be delivered through rural exception sites. We do need to ensure that that approach is recognised in the range of different Government policy announcements on housing: the New Homes Bonus, the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, post the National Planning Policy Framework. Ensuring that the rural exceptions policy approach is supported by Government is going to be critical for National Parks.

Q291 Neil Parish: I do not know whether Tony Gates wants to add anything. Do you?

Tony Gates: Not really, other than a little bit of emphasis to say we feel that there are adequate provisions within the National Planning Policy Framework and, if taken forward, further clarification and guidance on that I think provides a sound basis, but certainly Clause 6 does represent a threat.

Q292 Neil Parish: That leads me on to the next question, because it is about the right to buy. The problem is if you have an exception site the landowner has let that land go at a very cheap price in order to allow this to happen. If you then have a right to buy, that house only remains affordable for the first person who buys it. After that, it goes on the open market and is lost. What is your position on right to buy in National Parks?

Paul Hamblin: Can I say that I think there is an undeniable logic in the point that you raise? However, ENPAA does not have a position on this collectively and so we would need to canvass views from across the National Park Authorities before coming back to the Committee on that point.

Q293 Neil Parish: Will you provide that to us in writing then?

Paul Hamblin: Yes, we can do that.

Q294 Dan Rogerson: Good afternoon. My area does not have a National Park in it, but one problem that is common to many areas you are speaking about and my own is the issue of proliferation of second homes, as distinct from holiday lets; we are talking about those that are left empty. First of all, do you think the Government should be putting measures in place to deal with this issue, and what sort of measures do you think they might be?

Tony Gates: The issue of second homes varies significantly across National Parks. For example, in parts of my own National Park it is not a significant issue. In parts of other National Parks, for example some of the parishes within the Lake District, it is a significant issue. I do not want to rehearse in detail the issues that causes, but it does present challenges in terms of needing to provide the infrastructure to support those homes, while at the same time if the homes are not occupied they do not sustain the infrastructure that is needed to keep a viable rural community. This is not an easy question, and I think I have to say at the outset that the National Parks do not have a single position on this. There are various means that could be used, including looking at the Use Classes Order and looking at the classification of a primary home as opposed to a second home in use class terms, but there is no single view on this across the National Parks and the degree of the problem does vary from park to park.

Neil Sinden: I think it would be very interesting-and this is perhaps something that the Rural Communities Policy Unit could look into-to explore the effectiveness of the Council Tax provisions on second homes to see how effective the ability for housing authorities to impose higher levels of Council Tax than would normally be the case in relation to second homes has been, both in terms of managing that problem and in providing additional resources in order to perhaps meet affordable housing needs in those areas. I suspect that it may at best have had a marginal effect in terms of improving the problems that that issue can cause where there are high concentrations of second homes in the pockets that exist, and I think it is a serious problem in some areas.

Q295 Dan Rogerson: Both the Government and Matthew Taylor’s reviews suggest the use of Use Class Orders; I proposed an amendment to the 2008 Planning Act to try to do that. Is this something that everybody supports?

Neil Sinden: Yes, we would support that, and I know through my work with the Affordable Rural Housing Commission it was a recommendation in that report as well a few years ago. It is not without its problems and it does need to be very carefully explored, but certainly it is something that is worth looking at.

Dan Rogerson: In principle, yes. Thank you very much.

Q296 George Eustice: My question builds on that. It is about the social housing sector or, more importantly, the new affordable rent model that the Government has talked about. I know CPRE have raised concerns about this and said that the 80% of market price could still be too high for some people. Could you just expand on that? Why do you think that is?

Neil Sinden: I think it comes back to the statistics that we heard earlier from your colleague Mr Parish about the disparity between average rural earnings and house prices. There is a huge disparity, much greater in rural areas than it is in many urban areas, and there is a concern that the 80% level will still not bring rental property within the reach of people in housing need in rural areas. That is a concern. Again, I hesitate to suggest work for others, but the unit could look at the extent to which the new affordable rent model is assisting or otherwise those in rural housing need to house themselves and to present evidence to Defra and to Ministers as to what exactly is happening. I would suggest that there may well be a case in future, once we have given the new provisions time to bed in, for some kind of rural dispensation to perhaps even fix the affordable rent at a lower level in certain circumstances where there is evidence that that would need to be done to meet the needs that exist.

Q297 George Eustice: Obviously, there is a specific problem with second home ownership, which tends to be the more expensive houses in parts of Cornwall and maybe Dan’s and, to a lesser extent, my experiences. But when it comes to affordable houses to rent, they are less likely to be bought by second-home owners, are they not? So it is a slightly different problem. There is a supply issue, so you can build more rural houses for local use at an affordable rent.

Neil Sinden: It is a very different issue and it is quite a complex relationship, but to the extent that second home ownership and high levels of second home ownership have an impact on average house prices in an area, that will, in turn, have an impact on average rental values, which will then affect the precise amount of money that people are paying under the 80% market rent rule. So I think the key problem here is the disparity between average earnings of those in rural housing need and average rural house prices, and simply applying an across-the-board percentage of 80% across England does not necessarily take account of the greater disparity that exists in rural areas between average earnings and average house prices.

Q298 Ms Ritchie: Do you support the Government’s ambitions to make it easier for existing farm buildings to be used for other purposes?

Neil Sinden: The short answer is no, we do not. We think that the provisions in the consultation paper issued by DCLG last year go far too far in terms of relaxing regulations over the reuse and redevelopment of farm buildings. That is not to say that CPRE opposes sensitive farm diversification. We certainly do not. We think it has a major contribution to make to rural economic vitality and health, but we also believe that the planning system has an essential role to play in ensuring we get sensitive farm diversification into uses that are appropriate to the rural environment and which take advantage of the opportunities that exist to secure genuinely sustainable development in those areas that benefit the natural environment and the wider landscape as much as the local economy. So we are strongly advocating that the Government rethinks its proposals, and we await eagerly the Department’s response to the consultation.

Tony Gates: We are also awaiting the outcome of that consultation, which I understand is due soon. The only thing I would add is that in terms of farm diversification, in National Parks we are very supportive of the principle. In fact, we have a long track record of helping deliver farm diversification. We would be very keen that future initiatives, particularly the Rural Development Programme, include adequate provision for future farm diversification, but I think we also feel there is a need to be realistic about this. There has been lots of farm diversification in many areas in many parts of our National Parks. We have very supportive planning policies for this. In many cases, some National Park Authorities provide funding support for diversification, but I think we need to be mindful and look at just how big a contribution in some cases that diversification is making to the rural economy and not overexpect from that.

Q299 Neil Parish: Hundreds of thousands of families are in overcrowded houses; rents and house prices have soared over the last decade. This is particularly to the CPRE: is not releasing more land for building a small price to pay for the benefit that may result? I do not expect you necessarily to agree with that.

Neil Sinden: Well, it depends what is meant by the phrase "releasing more land for housing". The CPRE certainly agrees that we face a serious challenge with housing provision in this country. We are as concerned as some of the house builders are and, indeed, the housing providers are about the relatively low levels of housing output that we have seen over recent years-historically low levels of overall housing provision that we have not seen for over 50 or 60 years. So we believe that we need to boost housing provision and we need to ensure that we are making enough land available to meet the nation’s housing needs, but that is not to say that we need necessarily to make more land available than is currently available through the planning system.

Q300 Chair: Could we try to keep our answers just a little briefer, because we have an awful lot to get through?

Neil Sinden: Sorry. I shall stop there then.

Q301 Neil Parish: Can I just add one point? The Planning Minister suggests that the built environment can be more beautiful than nature. What are your comments on that?

Neil Sinden: We believe it can be beautiful in a different way, but I think it is wrong to compare one form of built beauty with natural beauty. They are very different, and I think we need to secure both.

Neil Parish: Just to bring you back to your previous answer to a previous question, you did not seem to want to allow building on redundant farm building sites. I would suggest to you there are a number of farm sites around that would be highly greater environmentally if they were built upon than they are at the moment, and yet you seem to resist that.

Chair: Shall we ask about the greenfield sites? Would you like to ask about greenfield sites?

Neil Parish: Sorry, Madam Chairman, I have lost-

Chair: Would you support more development on greenfield sites, as opposed to building on-

Q302 Neil Parish: I would like an answer, though, to the question that I asked, because previously you did not seem to be very keen on development on existing farm buildings that are redundant. I could not quite see the logic there.

Neil Sinden: I am sorry if I gave that impression. We support farm diversification as long as it is appropriate and sensitive, and we recognise that there are brownfield sites of the kind you described in rural areas that do need to be invested in and regenerated and reused for appropriate uses. That is our position.

Q303 Neil Parish: Okay, and then as far as the greenfield sites are concerned?

Neil Sinden: Again, this comes back to what we mean by releasing more greenfield land for housing. There is a lot of greenfield land for housing in the planning system already, enough to accommodate, depending on whose figures you believe, well over 300,000, 400,000 new homes. The planning system is set up to continue to provide more land for housing where it is demonstrated to be necessary, so we do not think there is a huge problem at the moment; and, yes, we do believe greenfield land needs to be used for housing, but it needs to be carefully controlled.

Q304 Ms Ritchie: This is to those from the National Parks: do people who live and work in National Parks have influence over planning decisions in their areas?

Tony Gates: Yes, they do, because the governance structure within National Parks allows for it. I will just briefly remind members that the governance of National Parks is made up of national members appointed by the Secretary of State, locally elected members from the district and county councils, and also parish members from within the National Parks. It is clear that local communities can and in fact do influence the planning decisions within National Parks. National Parks are the only planning authorities in England where parish members sit on the planning committee and so, in terms of very local input, you could argue that there is even stronger parishlevel local input to planning in National Parks than elsewhere.

Q305 Chair: Could I just ask about tourism? I think last year was perhaps not the best year to choose, because I understand in my own area a lot of bookings in accommodation were down, but the figures show that tourism is one of the largest sectors of the rural economy-obviously, the hospitality industry, accommodation, the whole toot. In the Rural Economy Growth Review, Defra claimed that the £25 million it was investing in rural tourism will generate at least £110 million in new visitor spend and create 3,000 new jobs. Do you agree with that? Do you think that is a little overoptimistic?

Tony Gates: I think it is not unrealistic. The evidence from various economic strategies across the country, including the Northumberland economic strategy, would show that tourism is the single area of the economy with the greatest growth potential within the county. So, certainly in terms of my own county, I would suggest that that is not unrealistic. If we look at the economic contribution within National Parks and the areas influenced by National Parks, we are talking in the region of £6 billion, which is a significant economic impact.

Q306 Chair: In the National Parks alone?

Tony Gates: National Parks and the area influenced by them, because not everyone who visits a National Park will stay in the National Park, but the National Park will have generated that visit. That is in the region of 6% of the total contribution of tourism to the economy of the country, so that is significant. I think it is right that it is seen as a priority for rural areas.

Q307 Chair: Do your findings show that there was a shortfall last year? Was it a disappointing year?

Tony Gates: Yes, significantly. It has been covered widely in the media, with parts of the Lake District down 25%, and I know within my own Park footfall was down 25% in some areas; visitor spend in some of our visitor centres was down as much as 30%.

Q308 Chair: I know North Yorkshire did not enjoy the best of weather last year either. Are the National Parks looking at alternatives, like doing more indoor things? Are you going to run into planning difficulties there? I fought my first seat in the Lake District, and I have always understood it is going to rain in the Lake District, so you take your wellies and your mackintoshes with you. But do you think that you are going to have to rethink a strategy for tourism in that regard?

Tony Gates: Yes, I think we would accept that has to be part of the offer. When we do research as National Park Authorities into why people do not visit-because we research the people who do not visit as well as those who do-one of the barriers is the risk. People think a visit to a National Park in some instances is a risky visit because if the weather is wrong when you get there, there is nothing to do. We know that is not the case, and as National Park Authorities we are looking at the infrastructure that we manage as public bodies as well as that managed by the private sector to see where we can enhance that. So, for example, in the Lake District, there are plans for complete refurbishment of their centre at Brockhole. Within Northumberland National Park, we have plans for a large landscape centre based on the Hadrian’s Wall area. Those will provide alternatives, but I think what we would not want to suggest is that the key attraction within National Parks are centres that you go to visit. The key attraction is the National Park itself and there will always be some risk with that visit, and I think we should allow people to accept that.

Q309 Barry Gardiner: Very briefly, Mr Gates, I remember when I came up to Northumberland National Park with you about five or six years ago you had a very good bus service that was able to bring people out to the Wall and so on. But of course, last year, the money for local buses was cut by 20% and I think public transport locally by 28%. What impact has that had, or do you see that having, on your capacity to bring tourists in to the National Parks?

Tony Gates: Firstly, I would say that public transport solutions are very important within National Parks, because these are National Parks. As National Park Authorities, we have very active programmes in trying to reach all sections of our society and so public transport solutions are very important. There is not strong evidence yet that we have lost significant essential services within National Parks, although I know within my own Park there are one or two routes-very important routes-that are currently under debate and under threat. Some National Parks have been very successful in securing funds through the local transport initiatives, and where they have been, we are seeing that make a real difference. So I think the point I would make to you is that it is really important that the importance of our deeper rural areas continues to be recognised within local transport schemes.

Q310 Richard Drax: Fuel poverty: what should be done to address this problem in rural areas, do you think, Mr Hamblin? Let me start with you.

Paul Hamblin: I think we first need to recognise that this is a significant problem for rural areas and particularly within National Parks, given the number of properties that are offgrid. When you are relying on diesel generators and the price is going up, this is really hitting people in their pockets, and it is a very serious challenge for many businesses. So, from National Park Authorities’ perspective, one of the things that we have been trying to do across the National Parks is work with local people on supporting renewable energy initiatives-smallscale, appropriate renewable energy initiatives that can help meet their needs and deliver not only economic and social benefits but environmental benefits, too. I think we look to Defra and the Rural Community Renewable Energy Fund for more details and further rollout of that so that it can have a bigger impact, and we would like to work with our communities on that.

Neil Sinden: I have just two points to add. In terms of new build, we need to do what we can to maintain energy performance standards, because of course we do not want to build, if you like, properties that will, tomorrow or in the future, be very fuel inefficient, so I think we need to look at that. I think we also need to look at how the Green Deal can be perhaps designed, reshaped or delivered in ways that enable some of the older properties in rural areas, perhaps the listed buildings, to be treated a little bit differently within the framework of the Green Deal, so that we are able to ensure sensitive adaptations and changes are made to those buildings that enable people to save fuel.

Q311 Chair: Can I just ask one last question to the National Parks? Have you found that the cost of petrol and diesel has impacted on the thought process of people visiting National Parks?

Tony Gates: What I would say, Chair, is that we do not have any strong empirical evidence of that, but our anecdotal evidence is that that is a big factor. If you take, from some of our urban centres, a journey of 45 minutes to some of the key, popular spots within our National Parks, the increase in the price of fuel has no doubt had an impact on the footfall. We are seeing it within Northumberland National Park. We are even seeing a significant drop in footfall in some of our busy areas like the Hadrian’s Wall corridor, and we have no doubt that people are factoring that in. National Parks we sell as free to you, because we do not charge people to come to National Parks. They are there for the nation and they are free, but if it is half a tank of petrol to get there and back, that is a big consideration for, say, a family whose budget is being somewhat squeezed.

Chair: Can I say, on behalf of the whole Committee, Mr Gates, Mr Hamblin, Mr Sinden, thank you very much indeed for being with us this afternoon and for taking all our questions and participating in the inquiry? Thank you very much indeed.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Roger Begy OBE, Leader of Rutland County Council and Chairman of the Rural Services Network (SPARSE), and Sonia Mangan, Chief Officer, Age UK South Lakeland, gave evidence.

Q312 Chair: Just while you are getting settled, welcome. We were expecting a vote at four, but I understand it has been pushed back until 4.30, so again I hope that you will accommodate us if we have to break for a short period. Hopefully, there will only be one vote, but can I just formally welcome you? Good afternoon. Thank you very much indeed for being with us today and participating in our inquiry. Would you just like to introduce yourselves for the record and to give your names and positions?

Sonia Mangan: I am Sonia Mangan. I am the Chief Officer for Age UK South Lakeland. As you can hear, I have a small problem with my voice at the moment, so my apologies.

Chair: No problem at all. You are very welcome.

Cllr Begy: I am Roger Begy. I am the Chair of the Rural Services Network (SPARSE) and I am also Leader of Rutland County Council.

Q313 Chair: I think you might have a busy day today.

Cllr Begy: Yes.

Q314 Chair: Indeed. Well, we are very grateful to you for being with us, both of you. Thank you. We are going to come to local government funding, but, at the outset, would you say that there is a great difference in the cost of delivering public services in terms of education, waste collection and disposal, ambulance service-the whole toot-between rural areas and urban areas given the rurality and sparsity of the districts that you represent?

Sonia Mangan: I am working with older adults in South Lakeland, which is a rural part of Cumbria, as you know, and so, in terms of things like waste disposal, those are not my greatest areas of expertise. I would be thinking more about social care issues and the cost of transport and whether it is more expensive to deliver services in rural communities. Certainly, from a sector perspective as well as a local authority perspective, it absolutely is.

Cllr Begy: We have done quite a lot of work on this. We worked with the Settlement Working Group over this last year. We did two detailed studies, one based around Tiverton and one in Northumbria, and we were able to show in detailed work on waste collection that it was almost double the cost to collect a bin in a rural area as in an urban area. That is not rocket science, but if you take the whole area of dealing with social care in a rural area, my own particular area is 23% over the age of 65; we are forecasting it going to 28%. First, it is getting the staff, and, second, getting the calls etc. because it is not a question of going down the street; it is a question of going round. So we have plenty of costs on those particular areas, and we have presented those to the Settlement Working Group of DCLG, who are looking at the funding formula.

Q315 Chair: Right. Presumably, then, to make up any shortfall you will have to dig into your reserves.

Cllr Begy: Those who have reserves, but reserves are there for a number of reasons, and I had the great pleasure of crossing swords with John Humphrys on this the other day at seven o’clock in the morning, which is not my best time. That is going to help us. We all have major problems over the next three to five years. This is not a oneoff thing, and we have to phase our cuts in, phase our savings in, and those will help us. What it will not do, if we do not have some of those reserves, is put money into rural broadband, because the funding from BDUK will not get you 90% in a sparsely populated rural area. It is getting economic growth to go with that and to go with housing development. So if you do not have reserves and you do not have money to put in those, you are not going to deliver those critical areas before you start getting to the basics.

Q316 Dan Rogerson: A couple of issues. In terms of the funding formula, understandably, SPARSE has done excellent work in focusing on the sparse element of the formula and the rurality. I understand, however, that there is also built into the formula a population density measure-which I think is hard to justify-which seems to tip the seesaw the other way, back towards the urban areas. Is this something that you are challenging?

Cllr Begy: Very strongly at this point in time and possibly you can help us in this, because DCLG have defined "rural" as being all districts, which includes Oxford, Mansfield, places such as that, as opposed to Defra, who have the Rural80, Rural50, which recognises rurality as opposed to the figures they have done. I think this has led to some unintended consequences in the latest figures.

Q317 Chair: We will go where the evidence takes us, so whatever you can share with us today is very important.

Cllr Begy: We would be delighted to give you that evidence.

Dan Rogerson: Just to mention the dreaded word of "damping", what is your view on what has happened between the summer and Christmas in terms of where you thought things were going to come out?

Q318 Chair: I am coming on to that, if I may. Can I just turn to the local government settlement that was announced before Christmas? Do you believe that the premium that we are told by DCLG is in the settlement provides sufficiently for rural areas?

Cllr Begy: The quick answer is no. We did a great deal of work, as I said, with the Settlement Working Group, who identified the cost and the changes that should be made to the formula. We had the dreaded word "damping" and that reduced those by about three quarters, and probably we would have swallowed hard and accepted that, but we did not even get that. That is why we have got quite annoyed and have a series of meetings with ministers etc. on this very subject.

Sonia Mangan: With regard to the settlement, I cannot comment directly on the settlement, but what I can comment on is the growth in the older population and the cost of that. So it is the double impact of the reduction in spend and the growth in the population, and you are quite right: it is not always about whether you can afford to pay for home care. It is sometimes about whether home carers are available, whether the quality of the home carers is there and the cost for this ends up being borne more and more by the individual. I think that is the concern, because there is only so far that we can go with local authority charging before people end up not having service and then end up in hospital or elsewhere.

Q319 Chair: Just on this point, Mr Begy, how significant is the settlement and what proportion of your financing do you get from the settlement?

Cllr Begy: I think that if we swallow hard we may well be able to cover this year with more focus and more specialisation of our services.

Q320 Chair: Are you ringfencing the vulnerable-so, for example, delivery of care to the elderly and the young?

Cllr Begy: We are most certainly focusing on that. That is such an important element of it, and the voluntary sector is such an important element within our particular community, but if this continues next year, that is when the real bone is going to be cut into and people really will start suffering. I am trying to be fair to the Government and the Department, but we really do need something to be done, otherwise there are going to be serious implications. Whether it be rural bus services, rural isolation, rural housing, rural growth, these things are really going to come under serious pressure.

Q321 Richard Drax: Good afternoon to you both. Ms Mangan, I think you have already touched on this: what challenge does an ageing population present to a rural local authority, particularly the changing demographics and the effect they have on service providers?

Sonia Mangan: The wonderful thing about getting old is that it is not a disease; it is something chronologically that happens to us all. But I think what we know about rural communities is that people move into rural communities from elsewhere. They tend not to be supported, therefore, with family and friends, especially when one of them experiences a spousal death and they live longer. So it is wonderful-it is a celebration that people live well and long in rural communities. Unfortunately, the down side of that is that the older we get, the more likely that we are then susceptible to multiples of things. So you might have arthritis, you might no longer have somebody living close by, and so a cut, which may be a cut of a service that is no longer deemed to be critical and substantial, like a community meals service, may be something that you think is not as grim as a cut for home care to get out of bed in the morning, but it might be that thing that is sustaining somebody in their own home. I think the challenge for us is trying to identify people who are in those risk areas and delivering services for them.

If I had a group of people behind me just now from Broughton in South Lakeland, which is a nice place-let us not go for Windermere-they would talk about transport. They would talk about affordable housing for younger people. They would talk about their concerns about being pitched intergenerationally with younger people and the priorities around that. They would talk about access to health services, and they would talk about sustaining their communities. They would not talk about social isolation, because they would be here today, so the chances are they would not be socially isolated.

Q322 Chair: We are coming on to that. Could I ask Mr Begy to comment?

Cllr Begy: It is very, very difficult, but in being rural, having villages, having communities, we have to look at things in a different way. We have a thing called Community Spirit and we have a number of villages that have signed up to that. They will do things like rural transport for people. They will help others in the village, and we have to develop new ways of doing this, because otherwise with that number of people in the area we will not be able to afford it and we will not be able to find the staffing, possibly, to be able to deliver those services.

Q323 Richard Drax: Are local authorities doing enough to support the work of the third sector?

Cllr Begy: I think they are vital. It is the last sector that I would cut, because I get such damn good value from it. As a business person, the return on investment I get from a focused third sector really does help me, and we would not survive in rural areas without the official third sector and, as I just said, the unofficial third sector that you tend to get in real rural areas with villages and market towns.

Sonia Mangan: It is the definition of "support". I think there are different levels of support. We can all have commitments to charitable endeavour and we can have commitments to neighbourhood endeavour, but does that relate to anything reasonable, meaningful and appropriate? I think we are, like many, many other providers and support infrastructure organisations, challenged about the fact that there is a watermark on everything that says there is less money. So that support is something we still have to work with, locally and nationally, to remind people that voluntary endeavour does not come free and somebody needs to put the money in the pot somewhere along the line. I do not think there is an engagement as great as what there could be, but I think there is a change, certainly with the kinds of things that Roger has just mentioned in terms of community spirit and in terms of recognising that organisations need neighbourhood support, whoever they are-whether they are public or voluntary-but certainly we could do more.

Q324 Richard Drax: Just quickly, I have one supplementary, from experience in my own constituency. Your charity looked at various things that the elderly were having problems with. One was public loos and the closure of them by councils. Now, two million people apparently cannot be more than five minutes from a loo. Is it a big issue amongst the elderly across the country that these loos are closing and therefore they are not going out?

Sonia Mangan: The biggest issue is not being able to have access to transport.

Chair: We come on to transport.

Sonia Mangan: Yes, but I am saying people ask me about that. That is not the biggest issue.

Q325 Chair: Mr Begy, did you want to add to that?

Cllr Begy: Really it was looking forward, looking together with the third sector and not necessarily doing things the same way. We are not going to survive doing it exactly the same way, having day centres, etc. etc. It is going to mean we need to work smarter, and it is how we work together to make the bucks that we have available more effective.

Q326 Chair: Just before we move to healthcare, can I ask a question? There seems to be a move in many county councils to private providers for residential care homes. I understand that county councils have traditionally topped up fees, but if there is going to be a squeeze on local authority funding, will they still be able to do so? I am slightly worried that it may spill over on to the healthcare sector if people are not going to be able to afford to stay in residential care homes with this euphemistic "extra care".

Cllr Begy: All our care homes are now private sector in Rutland, and it is the negotiations that you do with the care home owners and the number of block beds that you buy over a 10year period and the negotiations that you take there that do it. We do not top up. We have a set fee. Our sector is working very well and it worries me that we have become a very attractive place to come to, so we are getting more and more people from the South East who find it very easy to sell a threebedroom house in London for a million and then buy a fivebedroom house for £500,000 in a rural area and then suddenly, four or five years later, oh dear, we have all these services that are required for them. But no, I think if you manage a business, if you look 10 years ahead, etc, I do not think that is an area that should knock on. We are all trying ever so hard to make sure that people do not go into care homes and, in fact, my care home bill overall is going down. My bill for direct services and other such areas and other care areas is going up enormously, but care homes is not the area that people are going into.

Q327 Chair: Just to conclude, my only concern is that there have been instances of care homes-I think it was Southern Cross-defaulting. I am slightly concerned who stands in where local authorities have no beds anymore.

Cllr Begy: We had a scare with Southern Cross and some of our people just outside of the county, but again we worked with our partners on this and I was able to sleep at night.

Sonia Mangan: Can I just add a supplementary to that, because Cumbria County Council is one of the few local authorities that still do run residential care? They would dearly love not to be, and I notice that in the written evidence that they gave they did not make reference to it, but they now have 31 residential homes. I think they had 33. Their residential homes have 24hour nursing and what they want to do is move to extra care housing or more support in people’s own homes. It is a real challenge in terms of whether that is the best way of spending money, and if you talk to older people, if we think about what we want for ourselves, we want to stay in our own home and when we need care we invariably are going to need nursing home care and not residential care. But when you try to make any change within that, as Cumbria County Council have done, communities get out onto the streets and talk about it, because if you are talking about very small rural communities, it is an employment area and it is something that is part of the community. So to change that is quite difficult, so it is the reverse and I am sure Cumbria County Council would be happy to follow that up if that is what you would want.

Q328 Neil Parish: I want to move now to the health funding formula and this is to Ms Mangan. Should agerelated needs be given extra weight in the health funding formula, taking account of the older demography of rural areas? Is this something that Defra should be pushing, given their rural proof remit? In my own constituency the population in Devon is getting older; how do we fund this?

Sonia Mangan: Absolutely, and if you think about it, I do not know how many hospitals you have in Devon, but I know in Cumbria if we just went down to one it would be absolutely impossible. But if you look at the logistics and the population area, that is what it would warrant. So there needs to be that argument that rural communities in terms of health, because of the increase in the ageing population, because of the access issue, needs greater contribution in health and I am sure that most rural CCGs and health trusts would support that.

If you look at the population of an inpatient or GP surgery, we are talking about older people. We are talking about older people with undiagnosed depression, older people with nonfracture falls who are in hospital for 36 hours or 72 hours. All of this costs money and that is something that is extra cost when you have a rural community.

Cllr Begy: I am focusing on public health because that is coming across to local government in April. I think the first thing they could do is get some recent numbers. Some of the needs analysis is based on 2001. Populations have changed quite dramatically in this 10 or 11 years. Yes, it needs to be there, but please can you use some reasonably recent numbers?

Q329 Neil Parish: You raised the point earlier that people are selling houses in the South East, they are moving north, they are moving west and very often when they do that they are getting older and so therefore the demographics of the population are automatically moving. So you are saying quite clearly that the statistics being used at the moment are not up to date enough. I think that needs to be recorded.

Cllr Begy: They are 2001.

Q330 Mrs Glindon: What does the Government need to do to ensure that pockets of deprivation in otherwise affluent rural areas are recognised and receive the support they require?

Cllr Begy: They need to recognise that there is deprivation outside of urban areas. At the moment, if you have an argument about this sort of thing with people, "Oh, you are going to get less money because you have less deprivation." No, we have less major pockets, identifiable pockets of deprivation. We have that same deprivation. We once rang the Department for Education-and I am sorry this is being recorded, but it is true-and said we had a problem and they said, "Do not worry. Put the Council Tax up. Your population can afford it." The person who lives and works in Rutland earns £17,000 a year. The fact that we have a lot of people who do not work in Rutland, who earn £50,000 to £100,000 totally skews the figures and really deprivation is there. How we tackle that rural deprivation is an important one. It needs to be identified.

Sonia Mangan: I think when you see multiple deprivation and you have low density populations, it is like a nonargument, really-is it not?-because you are not comparing apples with apples. What you are talking about is pockets, but you can talk about pockets within the same village, within the same small community and you really are then talking about people who are hard to reach and very isolated and isolated within that deprivation. If you think about something like fuel poverty, which is a really good example for older people, you are talking about people who may be off gas. You are talking about people who are living in properties that are old and so therefore cannot have cavity wall insulation. Their deprivation issues are different from when you are looking at it in a wider urban area. It is that pocket analysis that is not taken into account sometimes.

Q331 Neil Parish: Should Defra be doing this? Who should be doing it, finding a way of working out where these-because we all know they are there, do we not?

Cllr Begy: Can we work together with Defra and DCLG on making sure that we know where they are; we have the map. You do not have to spend very much money to be able to map it very easily. We have all those numbers. Let us work together and try to recognise it.

Q332 Dan Rogerson: What message do you think the public sector could usefully put in place to deal with that as a problem?

Sonia Mangan: What measures could the public sector put into it? I think, first of all, is recognising that it exists in the first place in terms of it is not just about people who are necessarily old and alone. It could be people who are isolated but are still engaging with things. It could be people who have, as I say, undiagnosed depression. In terms of the public sector, we do a lot of work with GPs. We have village agents in South Lakeland who are employed 10 hours a week to work in a community of about 2,500 population. About a third of those will be older adults. Those agents are like a conduit for older people. We do a lot of work with the usual groups, like the over60s groups. We do a lot of work with GP surgeries. The reason why we do that is because they are ways of engaging with those people who are themselves isolated. You have to have a trigger to engage people in the first place and so what the public sector could do is take some of that learning and that work that is currently happening-like you were talking about aligning with the third sector-and say what the issues are in this area and how we work on that.

Cllr Begy: The public sector is never going to be able to tackle all of this without the help of the third sector. It is getting into the community and it is working with the third sector that will identify the solutions for it, because they will be different in every case.

Sonia Mangan: Yes, and I think that is a big issue.

Q333 Dan Rogerson: What you were saying there about getting to groups, though, I guess the issue in those areas we are talking about, the very rural areas, is there may be people who cannot get to groups, the groups do not exist because the population density is low-your over60s group or whatever. So is there work going on to try to create these kinds of groups? Well, in fact, I know, thanks to the work that your organisation has done on loneliness and so on in Cornwall, for example, that there have been some attempts to set up new groups.

Sonia Mangan: Yes. It is identifying the engagement routes that people will have, so it is like almost doing a map of what people do, who goes in to those individuals. So it could be that your target group in one particular area could be domiciliary carers. Carers who are going in to people three times a day, but not recognising that they could be going elsewhere and trying to think of different ways of doing that. There is always a way. It is just about sometimes whether there is the will and whether there is the energy needed to have that endeavour really.

Q334 Dan Rogerson: The sustainability of the community presumably is important as well.

Cllr Begy: One of the key areas that I think we all have to look at is ondemand transport for rural areas.

Sonia Mangan: Absolutely.

Cllr Begy: It is one of the areas we are beginning to invest more in. We have done a test on it. What that does is it takes away that psychological barrier: yes, I can pick up the phone, I can go from point A to point B and see my friend for coffee or I can go to this area. If you do not have that, the isolation-we cannot afford the rural bus services on a regular basis and I am sure you will come to that.

Chair: We are coming on to that.

Q335 Neil Parish: Talking about the big society in the community, one benefit of the elderly these days is that a lot of them are very active and they stay active longer. What can the Government do and what can we do? A lot of them are helping already the communities, but what can we do more to get them to help and provide even more in rural areas? What more can we do to help them?

Sonia Mangan: My organisation is in South Lakeland, which is only 35 miles wide. We have 275 volunteers; 75% of them will be over the age of 60. You are absolutely right: older people step forward to volunteer to help other older people and they do that because it gives them a sense of purpose, it gives them a sense of value, a sense of worth. It enables them to stay active themselves. There is a lot of work that is going on with health and wellbeing boards on trying to keep that connectivity and trying to work on different ways of doing that. I think the first thing we can all do is value that, but value it and recognise that that is what happens within communities.

Cllr Begy: If it was not for people over the age of 60, I do not think I would have a very large council.

Chair: No, absolutely.

Cllr Begy: Again, not all parish councils are like The Vicar of Dibley and it is getting them engaged and getting them involved and them harnessing people who say, "Yes, okay, I will do that for you." Get it from county hall or somewhere like that and they will probably ignore it, but if you get local parishes working together, working with their local community, I think there is an untapped resource there that could be used.

Neil Parish: And it is how we stimulate those older people, to give them perhaps a little bit of money to help with rural transport. I think that is something.

Q336 Chair: If I could turn to rural transport, could I just ask how important you think community transport schemes are to rural areas and do you think they are sufficiently well funded going forward, Mr Begy?

Cllr Begy: No, it is not, but I think we are all trying to get together. It is quite interesting: people do not recognise county boundaries or district boundaries, so working together and pooling our resources, we are able to extend our ondemand. But sometimes, I regret to say, the concessionary fare can be a cost rather than a benefit. We have one classic example in North Norfolk, where there is one bus going from one end to the other for people to have an ice cream on the prom full of people on concessionary fare, and they have had to put on another bus behind to take the people who want to go there for normal purposes. So it is a mixed blessing.

Sonia Mangan: I think everybody always has a story about concessionary fares. I think it is a bit like a story about disabled parking charges or something; it is one of those things that trots out. My concern is that that, at the moment, is the only solution. What we need always is a menu of options for rural communities and flexibility to be able to tailor-so ondemand transport, looking back again at voucher schemes. That was just such an unpopular move locally.

Q337 Chair: Can I float an idea to you, because obviously it is in the papers that concessions may go. In my own area I think people said that they would be prepared, rather than lose the concession completely, to pay a small annual sum. Is this something that you would look at pioneering?

Cllr Begy: I think we all have to look at all those options, and certainly the Thirsk area is one of the areas that I know that we are looking at, as SPARSE Rural Services Network, as one of the examples of what we can do. I think the other one is we have the voluntary car sector as well and the hospital sector would cost a lot more if it was not for voluntary car schemes that enable people to make doctor’s surgeries and hospital appointments.

Q338 Chair: And there is no indication that that is likely to be in jeopardy because of the high cost of fuel?

Cllr Begy: I do not think there is this year, but I think once we get to next year and if those sorts of cuts come in, those are the sorts of things that people are going to find very difficult to continue to fund.

Sonia Mangan: I asked one of the village agents-which is why I was talking about Broughton before-to give me an example about how transport impacts. She talked about a carer who had moved back to Broughton to look after her father who has dementia. She was saying that because the Carers Association cannot find volunteers in that area to be able to sit with her father, in order to do that she needs to pay £50 to be able to go shopping and she has to get a taxi and she has to pay for a carer.

Q339 Chair: So there are difficulties for people.

Sonia Mangan: Yes, yes.

Q340 Mrs Glindon: This is probably specifically to you, Councillor. How big a barrier is lack of transport to improving opportunities for education, employment and training for young people in rural areas? What do you think the Government might realistically do to resolve the issue?

Cllr Begy: If I can split that into two, one is transport relating to education. If we take somewhere like Lincolnshire, where there are vast distances between where people can get their local education, one of the biggest barriers that we have found in Lincolnshire is that people will sign up at 16 to go to a post16 college. They will manage it for the first two or three months. They are then stuck somewhere in a town in the middle of November waiting two hours for a bus to go back and they drop out. How we do it, whether we use online, the development of local resources, the development of apprenticeships and getting people in to help them in those sorts of areas I think will be one of them.

I think getting people to work is a vital thing. We have a grant from the Department for Transport and are putting on a bus to take people from higher unemployment areas to our own employers, because if not, we are going to lose the employers, but that then gets the unemployment down in certain areas. There are ways it can be done, but it is finding the right pots of money to be able to do that. The education one is an extremely important one. We have too many people, 16year olds and older, not in employment, education and training. I think the 17 will help part of that, then the 18, but it is how we bring it to them.

Sonia Mangan: For me, as I have said before, my concern is the ageing population, but in terms of younger people, older people need capacity and services within their area and so they do need people to be in employment and they do need people to be in education, otherwise the whole community starts breaking down. The concern for older people is that this is an issue where they get pitched against younger people and that is a real dilemma for them. It is like affordable housing: if it is affordable housing or if it is extra care housing. What older people do not want is to have that intergenerational pitch.

Q341 Richard Drax: What can be done to address fuel poverty in rural areas, do you think, Councillor?

Cllr Begy: As was said earlier, it is an extremely important rural issue: something like 25% in real rural areas. We worked very closely with an organisation called Change Agents, who used to be StudentForce and we have won the East Midlands and a national thing on fuel poverty. That is getting people into people’s homes, getting them to be able to go into the isolated homes of those people who do not recognise the waste that they are using in terms of their energy. We really have saved people significant sums of money. We did 300 houses last year. We hope by the end of next year to have visited every vulnerable house in the whole of our area, done a survey and worked with people.

With the Rural Services Network, we are working with Calor, because that is an area for people who are not on gas, which is often the issue in rural areas and we are working with them, again, on the same sort of thing. I think one of the pluses that is coming up is some of the insulation you can now put on solid walls. There are things that can be done, but the people who are suffering the poverty do not necessarily know they are available and it is how you get to them and how you get them to be aware that it is not help; it is assistance.

Sonia Mangan: It is the same issue as well we are talking about in terms of social isolation. You are absolutely right: there is help, there is support, there is activity in terms of making sure that people have the money to be able to pay for the fuel, that they understand how to stay warm, they understand what is available. It is just getting to those households that really need it, so it is the same kind of challenge. That is why things like our village agent programmes work really well, because you have somebody very, very local who is known within that community, who is able to identify even the housing stock within that community where they know they would have issues. There are solutions; it is just making sure that they get to the right people.

Q342 Richard Drax: In Portland, in my constituency, they have a new housing development and they have this new wood chip-it is wood pellet-which feeds all these houses, about 70 homes. Has that ever been looked at so far as investing in those in these remote rural communities, so you have one machine which you plug into a lorry and it provides cheap energy?

Cllr Begy: We have it in a couple of schools, because you can grow the stuff fairly quickly, etc. So far, they have worked very well in bigger schemes, but in terms of small schemes and individual things it does not work. If you wanted to do a village hall on that, it works quite well. I am not sure how you get them all plugged in to what would be community heat and power in a city.

Q343 Neil Parish: To Age UK particularly, do you have any concerns about the restructure of the Post Office network? Will it adversely affect rural communities, in particular older residents? They are moving now to the sort of Post Office Local type system restructuring. How have you found that?

Sonia Mangan: I think with Post Office restructuring we are still having the fallout from where we have been, really, and the consequences of that. There have been lots of really innovative solutions in local communities in terms of working with pubs-Pub is the Hub networks and things like that. My activity locally has been more focused now on getting people digitally included, so that they can access things that they may not be able to access anymore within their communities through digital methods. At the same time, they save money as well.

Chair: Order, order. We stand adjourned. There are potentially two votes, so I would ask colleagues to be back, if possible, if there are two votes, as close to 16.52 as we can make it. If you can excuse us; we will be back as quickly as we can.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chair: If we could reconvene. Thank you very much for your understanding. I am going to, if I may, turn to housing.

Q344 Ms Ritchie: Good afternoon. You are very welcome. This is a question to both of you: to what extent is the lack of suitable accommodation-for example, for older people looking to downsize or younger people wishing to move out of home-a problem in rural communities and, in your view, is it being addressed?

Sonia Mangan: It gets back to the discussion we were talking about previously about what it is that people need from their accommodation and whether their accommodation is supported accommodation and where it is they want to be. So if they want to continue living in the community that they have lived in maybe for the last 15, 20 years or even all their lives, then certainly it is a challenge if they want to downsize. There is some work going on around underoccupancy, as you know, and in Eden they have done some work around home share to try to begin to address that issue, where they are working with younger and older people in terms of sharing accommodation. It is a challenge, but it is a way of addressing that.

In terms of needsbased accommodation for older adults, if you are going to move away from residential care then you need some kind of supported accommodation and is there going to be enough of that? There needs to be more, but it needs to be in the right places.

Cllr Begy: Twothirds of our social housing is occupied by older people and thank goodness they are not being affected by the change in Council Tax benefit, because quite often this is the family home where one of the partners has died, etc.

I think the big issue we are going to face is that we have not been building onebedroom houses or onebedroom flats. If you talk to a registered social landlord, they say it is almost the same cost for doing a twobedroom rather than a onebedroom. I think one of the big issues that we councils are going to face over the next two or three years is people are going to say, "I want to come down from three bedrooms to two bedrooms," and whether we have enough of those; and certainly we will not have enough onebedroom.

I think the other vital thing in rural areas, which you were talking about earlier, is exception sites and having those in villages and maintaining village life by enabling young people to be able to stay in their community.

Q345 Ms Ritchie: Thank you. And then, to what extent are you concerned about the impact of housing benefit reforms in terms of underoccupancy? I suppose that is the bedroom tax.

Cllr Begy: It is keeping me awake. I can see how to do it in three years; I cannot see how I can do it from April. We have to find ways of doing this, but it is not going to be easy. I think that potentially the direction is right; it is how long it will take us to get there to be able to do it.

Sonia Mangan: I am more concerned about the lack of benefit takeup generally with older adults. I think there is a fear and then there is misinformation for them as individuals around housing benefit changes, but my greater concern is the lack of benefit takeup and the lack of good information to be able to support people to access what they are entitled to in the first place.

Q346 Chair: Mr Begy, could I take you back to something you said, I think, at the start of the evidence session, about there being two definitions of rural areas, one from one Department-DCLG-and the other from Defra? Do you think it is confusing to have two definitions and would it be helpful to have a clear understanding if we had a single definition?

Cllr Begy: I am going to get into trouble again, but I feel it is the first time we have ever heard of just using districts as a definition of "rural".

Q347 Chair: It is the first time we have heard...?

Cllr Begy: Of districts just being called, "Well that is rural." I believe that Defra have done a very good job in those definitions and I think one or two people at the moment will be looking at that already.

Q348 Chair: May I ask, as part of your representations that you are currently making to the Government on behalf of rural areas, are you making that point?

Cllr Begy: We are making that point extremely strongly to the Minister and I have to say full marks to the Minister. Brandon Lewis is being extremely helpful, making himself really available and talking to people. I think he genuinely understands the issue and will be doing what he can.

Q349 Chair: Can I just ask as well, historically under previous Conservative Governments we have had the two criteria of rurality and sparsity setting the criteria for funding. Are you slightly surprised that perhaps we are not relying as much on those two criteria with this?

Cllr Begy: It is a very difficult subject and I do not envy anybody trying to do it. The very first question you asked, Madam Chairman, was about the cost of doing business, the cost of collection, the cost of care, etc, and recognising that and recognising that no matter what you do you cannot do anything about it. You can be slightly more efficient, but not massively more efficient. I think that is the key area, recognising that. The Working Group identified that it made a significant difference to rural areas. It made just 1% difference to urban areas. If I take my particular county as far as the funding is concerned-I have it in front of me-we get, on average per head, with the change in the formula, we were going to get £221, compared to Leicester City at £566 per head. That was the funding. With damping that came down to £192, and with the settlement it has come below that. We are playing semantics with spending power and there is some work available for the Committee on the difference between "spending power" and "per head", but the simple fact is we have ended up with less and all that work that recognised it and DCLG civil servants recognising it has just gone down the pan at the moment.

Q350 Neil Parish: Going back to the Chairman’s previous question about treating all district councils as rural, you talked earlier in your evidence about the 80 and the 50. I take it these are the ones that are the most rural. Could you just explain what you meant by that?

Cllr Begy: Yes: 80% of the population is rural and 50% of the population is rural. The next one is 25% of the population is rural. Take Barnsley, which famously has a real rural hinterland, but it is not 50% of the hinterland.

Q351 Neil Parish: So there are ways of differentiating between the district councils.

Cllr Begy: It has been done very ably by Defra and very clearly defined.

Neil Parish: But not by DCLG, right, thank you.

Q352 Chair: Could I ask you, Sonia Mangan, what is the definition of "extra care"? My understanding is that you pay for basic residential care and then if you need anything extra you have to pay more.

Sonia Mangan: No. Sorry, with respect, extra care housing is where you are living in supported accommodation. So you have your own front door; you may have your own kitchen facilities. Importantly, you have wardencontrolled access, so you have access to some kind of call system and the extra bit of it would be that you have access to carers within that building. You would not be having access to them all the time, just when you needed, but they are within the building; they are around. You do not need as many of them as you would if it was a residential facility. So you are living on your own independently, effectively, but within an environment where you are supported. That is extra care.

Q353 Chair: It is really sheltered accommodation.

Sonia Mangan: It is, but the reason why they call it "extra" is it is more than sheltered accommodation. The carer bit is more than sheltered.

Q354 Chair: But you are paying more for the care, if you need it.

Sonia Mangan: Well, in terms of who pays, that is interesting. Working out who pays for community care, whatever the circumstances, is like walking through treacle. It depends on the individual’s circumstances. The individual themselves might say, "I am a selffunder. I have enough assets to be able to fund my own care, so I am making a choice to go into this place and I am going to pay for it." They may be assessed according to a social work assessment and they might find that they have a set of needs and then what follows from that is a financial assessment. That financial assessment then works out how much you are going to contribute. The council decide what they are going to charge for within that and there are national criteria, but there are also local criteria, which is why, when you are advocating for older people, which is what we do a lot of, it is very, very difficult, because the circumstances and the rules are very, very different. This is why you get people talking about postcode lotteries and things like that. We would ask for universal within that.

Q355 Chair: If we are going to be in a situation in a particular county where there are no local authority care homes, which has already happened in some, and you are left with a situation of extra care but they do not have the same number of beds as the local authority residential care home would have had, where do the other people go?

Sonia Mangan: What they would be saying is that there would be a proportion of people maybe that were-I do not know whether you do this, but there is like a capacity plan. Within the joint strategic needs assessment they will have identified who is in service now and project who needs to be in service and they will have worked out the capacity of that particular authority to what it is that they can deliver. So they would then be predicting things like how many hours home care they need, how many beds they need, how many extra care homes. So I might criticise it locally and I might challenge it, but there is an element of planning behind it.

Q356 Chair: One last question, if I may. My understanding is that the current financial settlement looks at deprivation, particularly urban deprivation; it does not necessarily recognise rural deprivation. The Rural Coalition is calling for, if you like, rurality and also the elderly as being recognised. Are you making any progress in those representations?

Cllr Begy: We are making progress but slow progress, and I think it is because it is complicated. It is trying to simplify it down so that we are all talking about the same thing. The English language is wonderful; you can say one word and it means one thing to one person and one to another. The way you have to do your planning is you have to have a certain amount of spot beds, so that you never reach that situation where they cannot go. The new trend is to build bungalows and get people in there at 55 who are fit and who then progress through to slightly higher care and then with a care home at the end of it.

Q357 Chair: I am familiar with the Joseph Rowntree model of Hartrigg Oaks, because that was in the Vale of York constituency, which I represented. In fact, I was the only MP to represent it, because it exists no more. But that was hugely expensive and took your life savings.

Sonia Mangan: I am from the Lake District National Park planning area and any planning of any housing is a challenge and land is really, really expansive, so I think for the county there is-I think you are right. There are lots and lots of strands to this, so you have to have them all together in the mix. It is not just about ageing; it is not just about rural scarcity. It is about trying to bring it all together and seeking the advice, support, engagement of those people who currently live in communities about what it is that they want. Before, Roger, you referred to neighbourhood support and community spirit. You can only do that if you have them.

Q358 Chair: A yes/no answer: do you think Defra should have a policy of reducing rural deprivation?

Sonia Mangan: Yes.

Cllr Begy: Absolutely.

Chair: Thank you both very much indeed and for putting up with our adjournment for the vote. We are very grateful to you, Sonia Mangan and Roger Begy, for being with us and making a tremendous contribution to our inquiry. Thank you very much indeed.

Cllr Begy: Thank you for the invitation.

Sonia Mangan: Thank you for inviting us.

Prepared 15th January 2013