“The impact of Coronavirus is being felt across every aspect of life in North Yorkshire and is changing how we think about the county, but not what we need to do to make our communities grow and prosper in the future.”
These were the words of Rural Commission Chair The Very Rev. John Dobson DL as he opened the first virtual session attended by all eight of the independent Rural Commissioners. Together they are tasked with coming up with a series of recommendations to help reverse decline and support prosperity across the county’s most rural areas.
The Commission had already heard broad-ranging evidence on the topics of Farming, Food and the Environment, the Economy and Jobs, and most recently Housing before its work was temporarily paused by the impact of COVID-19 – the disease caused by Coronavirus.
Commissioners have yet to hear the evidence sessions on Education, Schools and Training, Transport, Accessibility - Digital Broadband and Mobile and Energy Transition and Environment, but are now progressing their work – albeit in a virtual environment.
Speaking during their first online meeting commissioner Sir William Worsley – who is also Chair of the Forestry Commission – said: “Across every aspect of our work there will be a post-COVID-19 dimension to be considered. This adds a complexity and some problems but the outbreak has also demonstrated clearly our resilience and values. Things will not be the same again but we have seen how it is to work remotely and still be effective, to travel less and to see the positive impact on the environment, to see businesses diversify their manufacturing to support PPE needs and shops go online to continue to serve their customers. We will need to focus on the enablers required to sustain some of these looking ahead.”
During the session the commissioners took some time to consider the current impacts of the national lockdown and to review the evidence they had been presented with relating to the topic of the Economy and Jobs.
Commissioner Heather Hancock was clear the national emergency is presenting significant opportunities to learn from an economic perspective: “North Yorkshire’s economy is based on SME’s many of which have little resilience financially. But we also have a huge offer to families looking for a new way of life outside of the big cities and employers nationally who can see that a remote workforce can still be just as effective and productive. Many will review their office rationale and look at the financial and environmental benefits of less commutes to work. We must look at what this could mean for our county and how we can grasp any opportunities while ensuring there is a balanced and diverse economy here.”
Scientist and international businesswoman Dr Debbie Trebilco said: “The outbreak and imposed extended stay at home rules have actually also helped us to reconnect with some of the most valuable attributes North Yorkshire offers. High quality locally and sustainably produced food, the sense of space and joy of a natural and green environment and the positive impact on personal wellbeing that delivers. These are all assets under normal circumstances we would be looking to share with the world and which I feel sure will become even more popular in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Looking ahead the Rural Commissioners will continue to review the evidence already presented at previous sessions and will resume hearing new evidence on the remaining topics at the appropriate time. But they will also now look at how learning from the outbreak can be used to benefit the county’s communities and businesses in the future.
The pandemic will impact on the Commission’s timescales and recommendations will now not come forward until into next year.
Closing the session Dean John concluded: “We remain very clear on what we want to achieve and very much focused on finishing our work. There are without doubt things that we can learn from this that will support our recommendations and despite the current national crisis – we will get through this and by looking at the possibilities we can strengthen our resolve.”
85 per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as very rural or super sparse and The Rural Commission was set up in autumn 2019 by North Yorkshire County Council to try and identify ways to help these communities to grow and prosper.
The purpose and aims of the Rural Commission are to:
- Recommend the actions that local partners should take over the next 10, 20 and 30 years in order to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire. (recommendations due 2021)
- Improve the evidence base and arguments that will enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
- The panel is aided by a reference group of key stakeholders which includes the leaders of the district councils in North Yorkshire, the 2 national park authorities in the county and North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership