Deprived area: Ugly fact about the Blackdown Hills

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is eighth most deprived district in the country for access to services and housing.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been cited by the Government as the eighth most deprived district in the country for access to services and housing.

The Blackdown Hills, one of 32,000 districts rated nationwide, sits alongside the London boroughs of Brent and Newham - even though they are miles apart in more ways than one.

“The Blackdown Hills is a beautiful area but, to paraphrase Marie Antoinette, it’s no help to look at the scenery if you cannot get a bus to your nearest market town, post office or doctor and your village shop and post office have closed down,” says Upottery parish councillor Graham Long.

He believes parish councils have worked hard to ensure new developments include affordable homes, such as the ones recently completed in Windgrove Close, Upottery.

In Churchinford, villagers have successfully set up a community shop.

But, he says, rural villages classed as deprived by the Government now need to receive the same focus and regeneration support that has historically gone to inner city areas.

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Residents in the Blackdowns have limited or no bus services, meaning travel by car is necessary - at a time when fuel prices are escalating.

Councillor Long says the high cost of petrol and road tax “cut particularly deep into the pockets of rural communities”.

“Devon County Council made this problem worse this year by removing the only Saturday bus service through the villages of Rawridge, Upottery, Smeatharpe and Churchinford to Taunton, so increasing rural isolation and deprivation in the eighth most deprived area in the country,” he told the Midweek Herald.

He wants communities across the Blackdowns to come together and demand action from district and county councils.

He said: “The Blackdown Hills Community Plan provides a starting point for this, which could enable the people of the Blackdowns to take their future into their own hands, as envisaged by the forthcoming Localism Bill.”

Are rural communities overlooked by central government for special help?

For example, nationwide, around one million school leavers are not in full-time education or employment. How easy is it for those living in rural areas to access services, such as Connexions?

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