Nick Clegg responds to your comments
First of all thanks everyone for your posts. I’m pleased that my speech sparked some lively debate. I’m afraid there isn’t space here for me to respond to each of the comments individually, so I’ll pull out the main issues that have come up.
I’d like to take climate change first. Regarding the claims that it’s not a problem, the fact is that there is an overwhelming and undeniable scientific consensus over the causes and dangers of global warming. What we have to work out is what we do now to mitigate those dangers. The recession cannot be used as an excuse to abandon the green agenda. More than ever we need to move to a post-fossil fuel economy and that means a huge shift to renewable energy and much greater energy efficiency. Investing in zero-carbon homes and the greater use of micro-renewables is also a clear way to create jobs and help tackle rising unemployment.
Reading through the posts it’s also obvious that there is a lot of interest in the comments I made about bolstering the role of local communities in land use decisions. Some people are concerned about where you draw the line. The key is to make sure that everyone in the community has an opportunity to make themselves heard, and that full and accurate information about any potential development is made available. We need to formalise the role of community groups in the planning process, which itself needs to be much more streamlined. That’s how you get balanced decisions that ensure new development satisfies local need while staying sympathetic to the natural environment. It’s also how you stop the rumour mill convincing people that a cluster of desperately needed affordable homes marks the beginning of the end for the neighbourhood.
The importance of younger generations in protecting the environment was also raised in the posts. I completely agree, and it’s crucial that we now concentrate on making sure that the economic downturn doesn’t drive more young people out of the countryside. Since my speech the recession has got worse, and thousands of companies are struggling. Rural areas have a high proportion of small businesses, many of which rely on local people spending in them. They’re going to be hit hard as the downturn deepens, and young people looking for work close to home are going to have far fewer options. So it’s crucial we redirect Government spending to projects that help create jobs, and that those jobs benefit rural areas as well as urban. For example, by investing in our flagging railway network, and by insulating schools and hospitals. We also need to prioritise apprenticeship schemes and training so that all young people have the best chance of getting a job.
If anyone has any other specific points that they want to raise with me, either from the speech or on any of the issues facing rural communities, please email me directly at email@example.com.