Labour promise commission on affordable rural housing

Labour has launched its rural manifesto, promising a special commission on affordable rural housing.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said that the new commission would investigate the problems of affordable housing in rural areas and look at options such as cooperative purchases and shared equity.

Ms Beckett said of the environment and rural affairs "no where is the contrast more stark" between Labour and the Conservatives as she accuses that Conservatives of "underinvestment and neglect" of Britain's rural communities when they were in power.

Under the Conservatives, she said local bus services had been cut and local schools closed. Under Labour, there had been "real improvements" and "sound public services and economic prosperity".

Labour had improved things so that 50 per cent of rural households lived within 10 minutes walk to a bus services, had stopped post office closures, introduced 50 per cent rate relief for crucial community businesses and had overseen a 26 per cent fall in unemployment since 1997.

"Voting Tory would wipe out all of that.

"If people in rural communities value these very real gains they need to vote for them".

She promised that if Labour was returned to power rural communities would continue to benefit, saying they would build on CAP reforms, organic farming, expand Sure Start, and retain the agricultural wages board.

"Our main manifesto is the greenest Labour has ever put forward. Greener and more responsive to the environmental challenge than either the Tory or the Liberal Democrat manifestos. We are the only party not proposing cuts in funding for the environment, agriculture and rural areas."

But, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said that both the Conservatives and Labour were out of touch on rural affairs.

Mr Kennedy said that the Lib Dems would offer the countryside a 'fair deal', provide more affordable homes, protect rural Post Offices, and reform the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies.

Mr Kennedy said: "Agriculture is in a state of continuing crisis, the transport system is inadequate, local schools are closing down and public services generally are stretched.

"Labour does not seem to care about the countryside, but we also remember the damage suffered by the rural economy under the previous 18 years of Conservative rule."

He added: "We need to build up sustainable rural communities, capable of meeting the needs of local people. Liberal Democrats locally and nationally have a consistent record of working hard to offer imaginative and effective solutions to problems like these."