Vital rural needs are met in recovery plans, says Blair

It is vital the needs of rural areas are met in any pandemic recovery plans from the Executive, Alliance Rural Affairs spokesperson John Blair MLA has said.

Mr Blair said while it was important the economy was given help to restart following the COVID-19 crisis, it was equally vital particular solutions were created for more rural areas, where the often city-specific ideas didn’t apply.

“It is difficult to apply a one-size-fits-all solution to some aspects of the recovery and in particular to the needs of rural areas,” said South Antrim MLA Mr Blair.

“For example, while attempts to create more of a pavement cafe culture to deal with social distancing concerns and other matters are welcome in urban areas, the reality is it will not fit every street in every small town or village across Northern Ireland. Of course, a large part of the rural economy relies heavily on these businesses and others restarting successfully. Bars, restaurants and retail outlets in rural areas often have unused outdoor spaces which could be utilised to aid recovery, if appropriate licensing and planning consideration and flexibility can be applied.

“An inter-agency group, led by the Department for Communities, has been established to look at how the recovery can best be accommodated within the existing coronavirus regulations. I’ve written to the Communities Minister, asking she directly consider the impact on rural communities. It would be reassuring if the Executive could confirm it will consider the specific needs and challenges these circumstances bring, as we try to rebuild rural life and protect jobs.”