Jun 27, 2017
PURPLE President Helyn Clack yesterday took part in an EESC event organised as part of Civil Society Days 2017. Mrs Clack was one of six panellists asked to consider how both urban and rural areas might best be developed in order that territorial social cohesion be achieved.
In a departure from her prepared intervention, Mrs Clack took the opportunity to respond to a number of key points that had been made by those who had spoken previously to herself.
She took the opportunity to both welcome and echo the pronouncements made by others that, for example, the rural and urban dichotomy was outdated and no longer sufficient or appropriate for the purposes of understanding how places work in practice. She also lent her support to the notion that both urban and rural areas (whatever it is that we mean by that typology) have distinct but not exclusive attractions.
The main focus of what she went on to say was related to public services and public financial interventions.
Mrs Clack sounded a clear warning that where the city limits end should not be the place which public funding intervention stops. But at the same time we should all be less reliant on public money and more focussed on local growth and private investment. Our key emphasis therefore should be upon how best to support such growth as opposed to how to directly support areas in the absence of such growth.
The rationale for such an approach is simple .... There is insufficient money available to enable the first to happen even if it were thought to be desirable.
It is, she pointed out, abundantly clear that peri urban and rural areas need proper housing, proper schools, proper jobs and proper health services. But it is too simplistic to say that simply demanding that this happens is about balancing places: more accurately this is about balancing the needs of people in different types of places. We must never lose sight of people or become disengaged from them. Infrastructure development for example needs to be sympathetic, it needs to fit with the rural and the peri-urban places in which it occurs. And when we talk about fit we need to ensure that at every stage what we do is done with the direct involvement of local residents and local businesses.
In short then, what happens in peri-urban and rural areas needs to be inclusive and participative and it needs not to be predicated upon any assumption of external support. Such an approach has the dual benefit of neither underestimating the value of genuine local engagement nor of creating or encouraging an over-reliance on public funding which no longer exists.