Village of future: cold beer and spinsters sharing cars

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLISH village of 2010 could offer the benefits of a pub with part of the bar converted to a shop and villagers' car-sharing schemes.

This was the vision of the future of rural England painted yesterday in a report by the Cabinet Office proposing sweeping changes to boost flagging rural economies.

The advice from the Government's performance and innovation unit appears to fly in the face of moves by John Prescott to reduce car use, insisting that: "Cars will continue to play the key role for many rural journeys". It suggests councils could issue vouchers to cover poorer villagers' motoring costs, public transport or taxi fares.

There is scope to encourage more systematic car-sharing by people living in rural areas, possibly through car clubs - an idea being piloted in Edinburgh and Leeds - where a number of cars are jointly owned or leased by a group of households, said the report.

The village pub could also be revived under the wide-ranging proposals.

The report advised the Home Office to take steps to urge magistrates to change their minds about preventing village pubs turning bars into shops or post offices.

Overcrowding in tourist areas could be kept in check by tolls, which could raise more money for rural areas.

The most controversial part of the report suggests that tight restrictions on the best agricultural land should be swept aside, to allow farmers to cash in on their land. This heralds the first radical change in planning rules for the countryside since 1948. Far from leading to the concreting- over of the precious countryside, the Whitehall unit, under the Treasury minister Andrew Smith, believes a change in the planning rules could help to protect more scenic areas.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England warned: "Proposals to remove planning controls from the use of farm buildings for business and industry could stimulate a rash of intrusive and damaging development."

t Rural Economies, Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit, tel: 020 7270 5286 or Stationery Office; pounds 15.

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