Support needed to help rural areas level-up and boost Cumbria’s economy

There are calls for more Government support to help boost Cumbria's economy.

Rural areas are 19% less productive than the national average according to the Country Land and Business Association, and they say closing the financial gap between the countryside and Britain's urban regions is vital.

The organisation wants to see what it describes as barriers to economic growth removed - a call that's echoed by Cumbria's rural businesses.

South Cumbrian Farmer and landlord Mark Southern says businesses like his face different challenges to urban areas, saying: "There's no significant coverage for, for instance, mains water. We're off grid when it comes to mains gas, and often mains sewerage.

“So if you are trying to develop a business in a rural community, you have to factor in the very significant additional costs of putting in your utilities, for instance, because it's extremely expensive to find alternatives."

As a landlord, he provides homes for 50 local families but says planning and housing laws are geared towards urban properties so often put rural landlords off renting to local people, to increase the local workforce.

Mr Southern says: ”Most of our housing stock was built in the 18th, 19th, or early 20th century. Making those energy efficient is very difficult. So that adds additional pressure and encourages people not to let houses in the rural community."

A big challenge for rural businesses can be finding staff and where it is difficult, it adds to the cost of running the business. House prices are often higher in rural areas like Cumbria, yet wages are often lower than in urban areas.

Mr Southern says under investment in the road network and lack of public transport makes it harder for workers to commute into rural areas and their businesses. Lack of staff can then lower productivity.

The CLA says rural areas are 19% less productive, and could generate £43bn more for the UK's economy if it was levelled up.

For Mr Southern, infrastructure is key: "I think one of the key issues is the lack of investment in infrastructure, you know the transport network, broadband, even mobile signal, which is very difficult in these areas, but also it's policy in relation to things like planning."

In September the Government announced £110 million for leveling up the countryside. In the latest round, there's been £2.1 billion spent leveling up.

The Government says it's investing millions of pounds levelling up our region.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up said: "We're transforming brownfield sites in Dumfries and Galloway into new culture and leisure hot spots and in Cumbria upgrading roads and bridges along the coast."

But businesses in Cumbria also want changes to planning laws and regulations so they meet the different needs of rural areas.

Mr Southern says his area isn't seeing enough of the levelling up funding: "We haven't seen much of that in this area. Most of it seems to get focused on towns in the areas rather than the actual rural communities.

“We need a commitment from the Government in relation to investment in all of our infrastructure and an understanding of how rural communities work, additional resources in terms of health and education, all of which I think, Mr. Hunt, the Chancellor, has referred to in his recent plan, all of which is commendable, but actually until we have some actual action and some actual investment in these areas, it's all sort of hot air."

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