Government does not like rural towns like ours

Cllr Rook, in his column (December 6)
offers an analysis of the policy of large amounts of housing to support the economic development of Market Harborough.

His analysis of the national economic situation is correct – at least insofar as it agrees with the Chancellor’s own argument.

Global entrepreneurship and competitiveness are the solution to the current deficit, asserts Cllr Rook.

As applied to the UK, he has evidence on his side.

As applied to Harborough, however, he is not only wrong, but dangerously wrong.

I agree that the UK needs to fight its corner in the global market place. This is the national economic mission.

But Harborough’s mission is not to be a world-class centre of innovation; rather it is – to quote the district council’s own claim – to be “England’s finest rural market town”.

And let’s make no mistake here – the two are quite incompatible.

A strategy of expansion of industry, and the accompanying infrastructure and housing, will turn Harborough into another Milton Keynes – that is assuming it works.

Given the sheer number of places claiming to be centres of global innovation, and given the recession, this assumption is debatable.

Governments have never liked rural communities and understand them even less. Rural policy has always been disastrous, and continues to be.

The advisors who shape policy for ministers never leave Whitehall, and their ignorance is plain to see.

The localism legislation shows this in every clause – according to Government all rural communities are the same, the rural economy is a drag on the national economy, and the extra costs of rural services – transport, education, health etc – are a headache.

Government attitude is always the same:

“rural” is synonymous with “problematic” and the best thing is to urbanise the countryside as fast as possible.

The now-disbanded (thank goodness) East Midlands Regional Development Agency was a case in point.

They saw the rural areas of our region, especially Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, as sea-anchors holding back the region in its ambition to be a European leader.

Covering the Northamptonshire countryside with logistics warehouses was just what it wanted.

So let’s be clear.

Government don’t like rural, and they don’t like market towns, which have been in economic decline for years in the drift to the city.

They are against us; we know that.

But it’s the job of the district council to defend and celebrate our status as a market town, not act as proxy for the dangerously one-sided planning regime of Eric Pickles and his colleagues.

And this isn’t sentimentality or nostalgia, it’s good economic sense.

What was that phrase again?

“England’s finest rural market town.”

That is the unique selling point for Harborough.

When I tell friends in other parts of the country where I live, they invariably say “Oh yes, Market Harborough – lovely town – we go there twice a year for the shops”.

Many other towns would give their eye teeth for such a reputation.

That’s where Harborough’s economic fortunes lie.

Pretending to global ambitions and surrounding the town with industrial and housing sprawl will kill Harborough’s unique and highly marketable distinction.

Harborough has much to do to maintain and improve itself.

But it has the solid basis for a future as a unique and prosperous small rural town.

If that were lost it would never be recovered.

Professor Bill Jones