Rural areas need a levelling-up agenda that recognises the difference between villages, towns and cities
Scrapping rural bus routes, and abandoning bus stops, has worsened community isolation | PA Images
We must protect our countryside communities by improving public transport in cut-off areas and making sure amenities stay accessible to everyone
For too long, rural constituencies like West Lancashire have been pushed aside or simply forgotten by the government and local authorities that should be supporting them. My constituency shares a border with both Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. Inevitably, all focus and investment is hoovered up by these larger commercial centres and is lost to rural and semi-rural areas. Levelling up can only work if we really understand the difficulties that rural areas like West Lancashire face.
Transport in particular is a huge area of concern for my constituents. Skelmersdale, the largest town in West Lancashire, is effectively a closed circuit with no train station and minimal buses in or out. For a town that has low levels of car ownership, this can be very isolating. I have been campaigning for 15 years for a train station in Skelmersdale and only with the recent Beeching cuts reversal funding has even the slightest progress been made.
To add to the levels of isolation in West Lancs, rural bus routes have been consistently scrapped or bus stops abandoned. Vulnerable elderly people have repeatedly been left with no access to their local towns because someone has made the decision that this route is no longer profitable enough. Levelling up means accepting that some routes will lose money but community cohesion and protection are worth the loss.
Vulnerable people have been left with no access to their local towns
Rural areas have their own unique environmental profiles, and my constituency is sadly blighted by frequent flooding. Britain’s rural areas host picturesque green spaces and watercourses, but adverse weather or maladministration can have destructive effects on local residents or farmland.
Improper maintenance of watercourses and infrastructure leaves many farmers in West Lancashire at the mercy of the rain – and if a harvest cannot be guaranteed, then the large buyers like supermarket chains will surely look elsewhere for their contracts, causing great damage to a pillar of our local economy.
Funding must be secured for both effective infrastructure and the agencies which tend to our natural assets, to prevent flooding wherever possible and respond promptly when it occurs. It is not a freebie – it is an investment by the government in vital sectors of the economy that risk disappearing without support.
In a year that saw millions work from home, having a strong broadband connection has never been more vital. Unfortunately, poor broadband speed in rural communities is another issue my constituents are having to face. I feel many take a strong Wi-Fi speed for granted; however, for many of my constituents who live in Scarisbrick and Westhead, accessing the internet continues to be difficult. While I am aware that steps have been taken to improve the broadband connections in my constituency, more work is needed to ensure that everyone has access to the internet.
West Lancashire, and other rural areas around the country, are in need of a levelling-up agenda that recognises the difference between towns, villages and cities, encourages a dynamic, interconnected local economy using all our talents, and preserves our proud natural heritage and environment. For as long as I am in Parliament that is the agenda for which I will continue to advocate.
Rosie Cooper is the Labour MP for West Lancashire