Top Labour minister's rural visit

Norfolk's small towns and rural communities yesterday seized the General Election spotlight with influential local groups demanding more affordable housing, sensible targets for new homes, better access to services and improved employment opportunities.

Norfolk's small towns and rural communities yesterday seized the General Election spotlight with influential local groups demanding more affordable housing, sensible targets for new homes, better access to services and improved employment opportunities.

The calls came yesterday as Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs came to Somerton to launch Labour's rural manifesto.

His visit is due to be followed this afternoon by the Tories' shadow secretary of state for environment, Nick Herbert, meeting farmers in Billockby to discuss rural issues.

Highlighting the significance of the politicians' visits to the Great Yarmouth constituency, which is seen as a key marginal seat, Chris Wade, chief executive of Action for Market Towns, said that because most marginal seats were in English market towns, issues concerning small towns and villages could have a huge bearing on the election outcome.

He said: “The urgent need for more affordable housing is shown by a recent report which found that the stock of social rented housing in rural areas was lower in 2008 than 1998.”

However, he also acknowledged concerns about small towns being swamped by housing targets and said the planning system had to “listen to local opinion while resisting knee-jerk local reaction”.

Most Read

After going on a boat trip to meet reedcutters who have benefited from the government's sustainable development fund, Mr Benn restated Labour's pledge to deliver 10,300 rural homes between 2008 and 2001, and said his party would also be giving special planning power to parish councils to build up to 15 new affordable homes.