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

Memorandum submitted by the Countryside Agency


  The Countryside Agency is the leading source of expertise on rural affairs. We set out to influence the work and action of others, basing our advice on the facts and demonstrating what works on the ground.

  Our aims are:

    —  to conserve and enhance the countryside;

    —  promote social equity and economic opportunity for the people who live there; and

    —  help everyone, wherever they live, to enjoy this natural asset.

  These are ambitious aims and we have an ambitious programme of work to match. Our budget of £70 million is relatively small and we cannot achieve our ambitions by our actions alone.

  We have a special role to play with government. We are their advisers on all countryside issues and, just as importantly, we also monitor and report on their progress in delivering their rural policies.


  If we are going to make a real difference to the countryside we must persuade others to do things differently. So when government decides to introduce a new programme on education, Sure Start, we persuaded government to change their approach to ensure rural children got their chance to participate.

  We are working with government to make sure the rural dimension is built into every policy development. For example, we have developed a checklist which has been introduced into every central government department to make sure their policies will not disadvantage the countryside.

  But people whose decisions affect the countryside must have the facts to provide a solid foundation for their actions. We are building up data and information to map the social, economic and environmental geography of England. Our State of the countryside report and rural services survey give the facts in a way which allow policymakers and others to target their actions to best effect.

  We can also influence others by advising on innovative policy solutions and showing what works on the ground. In a world where there are few clear cut options, the Agency can act as a pathfinder in working out how policymakers can achieve their goals.


  To complement our influencing role we are also about practical action. We deliver seven large scale programmes on work on the ground which demonstrate how others can take forward new ways of working or where the Agency has special responsibility. These practical programmes play an essential role in helping shape our policy advice.

How do we do it?

  The Agency is a national organisation delivering eight programmes of work set out in our new strategy Towards Tomorrow's countryside:

    —  rural assurance—influencing the quality of rural life;

    —  countryside capital—£6.5 million over three years showing how the countryside can reach its full economic potential;

    —  vital villages—£48 million over three years spent on local community projects and services;

    —  market towns—£12.5 million over three years for market town regeneration;

    —  wider welcome—£12.5 million over three years for access, national trails and rights of way;

    —  countryside on your doorstep—£12 million over three years bringing the countryside to towns and cities;

    —  finest countryside—£18.5 million over three years for AONBs and creating two new national parks; and

    —  local heritage initiative—£12 million over three years reintroducing communities to their local heritage.

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Prepared 13 February 2002