March 20, 2015

CCBS Supports the Need for a Statutory Duty for Rural Proofing

The Centre for Cross Border Studies has today published its response to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s public consultation on policy proposals for a Rural Proofing Bill.

Rural proofing has been a commitment of the Northern Ireland Executive since 2002 and is part of the existing policy-making process across government in Northern Ireland. It is designed to ensure fair and equitable treatment of rural communities so that policies do not have a detrimental impact on rural dwellers. The purpose of the Rural Proofing Bill is to strengthen the existing policy requirements around rural proofing. CCBS is supportive of the need for rural proofing to be placed on a statutory footing.

Evidence suggests that the present non-legislative approach to rural proofing has not been as effective as first envisaged. Therefore, CCBS is confident that legislating for the process will strengthen and underpin the Executive’s commitment. It will also serve to improve the effectiveness of this process and ensure that the needs of rural communities are appropriately considered in the development of policy and delivery of public services.

CCBS welcomes any legislation which helps to address the needs of rural communities, particularly those rural populations within the border region, who face unique challenges as regards to access to public services, infrastructure provision, rural and urban connectivity, business growth and unemployment. Likewise, people living close to each other but across the border have also been affected by distinctive policy asymmetries, including with regards to rural proofing. Indeed, to date the approach taken to rural proofing in the Republic of Ireland has been more robust than that in Northern Ireland. From the publication in 1999 of the Republic of Ireland’s White Paper on Rural Development, its broad principles and policy commitments have been represented in two plans; the ‘National Development Plan (NDP) 2007-2013’, and the ‘CAP Rural Development Programme 2007-2013’.

While CCBS supports the need for this statutory duty to be placed on all government departments, local councils and Executive non-departmental public bodies, we also maintain that the statutory duty should explicitly require the relevant duty holders to mitigate any adverse impacts where they are identified when developing new or existing policies. Our concern is that the statutory duty, currently worded as “to consider the needs of people living in rural areas” risks the prospect of having the needs of rural communities considered but without compelling any action to mitigate adverse impacts identified.

Lastly, we are confident that the success of the proposed legislative approach to rural proofing hinges upon creating a statutory role for DARD to promote and encourage other bodies to engage with rural proofing. CCBS endorses the view that DARD must play a role in ensuring training is provided to build the capacity of policy makers in other departments, local councils and NDPBs to ensure effective implementation, as well as the training of rural stakeholders to ensure effective scrutiny of rural proofing practices.

Click here to access the full consultation response.