The Government should enable affordable rural housing schemes to proceed and not require complex and expensive referenda, church leaders say.
Faith and the Future of the Countryside – 2010, which met earlier this month, explored the sustainability of rural communities and their churches and marked 20 years since the publication of Faith in the Countryside, the seminal report of the Archbishop’s Commission on Rural Areas chaired by Lord Prior.
Four conference themes of rural communities, economy, environment and rural church reflected the breadth of issues covered in the original report.
The Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith, Anglican Bishop of St Albans, who chaired the conference, said: “The Coalition Government has to address the acute shortage of affordable housing in the countryside if we are going to avoid a serious housing crisis in the next few years."
“The parish plan is an inclusive way for local people to decide on new affordable housing and much better than requiring a majority of 75 per cent of voters to approve a new rural housing scheme,” he said
Other recommendations from the conference, at Swanwick, Derbyshire, included a call on the Government to remove barriers to churches accessing funding for community benefit.
The conference also urged the Government to ensure the ecological, cultural, economic, recreational and spiritual benefits of the public forest estate are safeguarded, following the announcement of the sale of the some Forestry Commission owned land.
The Faith and the Future of the Countryside conference brought together 200 delegates from seven different denominations in England, Scotland and Wales, including 21 bishops, eight Methodist district chairs, to discuss papers from 33 academics and professionals, predominantly dealing with issues relating to community, environmental concerns including climate change, and the rural church.
The conference also recommended Churches to provide effective preparation for rural and multi-church work and to continue to explore alternative, flexible and radical models of collaborative mission and ministry.
The key recommendations in full:
1) We call upon Government to enable affordable rural housing schemes to proceed where this need is established through a local housing needs survey and a community led plan formulated to an agreed national standard.
2) We call upon Government to remove barriers to churches accessing funding for community benefit.
3) We urge the Church to recognise and strengthen its contribution to sustainable communities and to use this as a basis for engaging with government and local communities in the Big Society agenda.
4) We urge the Government to ensure that proposals about the future of the public forest estate safeguard the ecological, cultural, economic, recreational and spiritual benefits that are already in place.
5) Appreciating the distinctive nature, demands and stresses of rural mission and ministry, we recommend that:
* Those in training for public mission and ministry should have effective preparation for rural and multi church work. This should include the preparation and equipping clergy moving to rural posts.
* Church Leaders should develop improved support to address the well being of the clergy and lay officers engaged in rural mission and ministry.
* The rural church continues to explore alternative, flexible and radical models of collaborative mission and ministry.