The announcement comes as part of a package of measures in the party’s countryside charter, to be unveiled on Tuesday, which commits the Lib Dems to “closing the gap” between rural and urban areas in the availability of high-speed broadband and extending the 5p per litre discount on fuel to more remote areas. Residents across 17 of the UK’s most rural areas with the highest fuel prices would start to get the discount from 31 May.
The party leader, Nick Clegg, will set out the plans to help rural communities on a trip to a fishing market in Newlyn Harbour in Cornwall, in the marginal Lib Dem constituency of St Ives, which is held by Andrew George with a 3.74% majority. The visit comes a day after the Guardian reported comments by George that the Lib Dems would not go into a coalition with the Tories.
Clegg said: “Andrew is one voice but he doesn’t represent the Liberal Democrat stance on this. Nor is it his decision. He’s entirely entitled to his own view. I lead a political party, not a sect. And if and when we need to make a decision we’ll take a decision collectively.”
The deputy prime minister is expected to say that the rural economy is worth £210bn to the UK and that his party wants to “unlock its potential”.
He will say: “In order to prosper, rural areas need good local services, appropriate infrastructure and more housing.”
A spokesperson for the party denied that the plans to give local authorities powers to raise council tax for second homes was an attack on those with holiday homes, arguing that local government in areas popular with second home owners had been crying out for such a measure for years.
Cornwall has the greatest number of second homes in England and Wales – about 5% of its 260,000 houses – and prices have risen over the past decade at an above-average rate, leading some to argue that second home purchases have created a local housing bubble.
In 2012, Cornwall county council became the first local authority to abolish council tax discounts for holiday homes and introduce a 150% tax on properties left empty for two years.
Also included in the Lib Dems’ countryside charter is a pledge to roll out high-speed broadband to 99.9% of households across the UK and plans to increase the powers of the groceries code adjudicator so that all farmers, especially in the dairy industry, are paid fairly.
The party wants to introduce a rural bus protection fund to maintain transport services that are not necessarily profitable but are relied upon by those living in remote areas. It also plan to introduce “retained” police officers, who are fully-trained police officers on call and able to respond quickly where needed.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 21st April 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010