From the Independent 15 March by Janet Street-Porter
What is so inherently patronising about this initiative is that it assumes that we can only be made to engage with a concept via the conduit of celebrity.There's almost a secret promise: go to the countryside and you might run into one of these fabulous people. The website, meanwhile, is full of fatuous phrases such as: "Your countryside is always open, whatever the weather... whether you're seeking a solitary walk or a full-blown family outing, there's always something to see and do in your countryside, all year round."
Yet there was no need for Tessa Jowell and Margaret Beckett to waste money on this project. The way to lure us back to the countryside is far more prosaic. Here's the eight-point Street-Porter manifesto. And unlike Anthea Turner, I have actually walked over 1,000 miles of it.
1 Restore rural transport, with minibuses and people-carriers connecting small villages to railway stations. We need people to be able enjoy the countryside without having to use their cars.Simple, isn't it? We have to make the tourist industry understand the concept of service, the farming industry trust visitors, and the transport industry work on a macro level. Or we could all just rush out and buy Joan Collins's new book, Star Quality, which happens to be out this week.
2 Be prepared to fight Consignia's plan to close uneconomic rural post offices. The Government should be prepared to subsidise them. If grants are being dished out to farmers to beautify their premises, get rid of detritus and morph them into custodians of "our" countryside, then this has to be achieved in partnership with village shopkeepers and sub-postmasters. Prince Charles might waffle on about "making the pub the hub" in villages, but it makes far more sense to save the village shop.
3 Having said which, all country pubs should be ordered to serve hot food after 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. If they don't want to, they should have their licences revoked.
4 Set up a fund to open up village halls on weekends so that visitors and locals can enjoy activities in them, from exhibitions about local life to farmers' markets, to simply providing a place where you can shelter, drink tea and consume locally baked cakes. Why should these places only be open for commercial activities such as craft fairs and antique shows?
5 Tax tea shops that stop serving at 5pm because the owners or staff want to go home for their tea. Haven't they heard that the customer comes first? Similarly, educate bed-and-breakfast owners to understand that breakfast on Sunday can actually be served after 10am without the world coming to an end. And let all those teenagers who run the reception desks in hotels up and down Britain actually stay in a hotel themselves for once, so that they begin to understand what the concept of service means.
6 Remove the VAT on the sale of maps and footpath guides.
7 In order to spread out the hoped-for new influx of visitors, charge a toll to enter National Parks. Increase the number of Areas of Outstanding National Beauty and promote them heavily.
8 Create a new compulsory school subject: your countryside and how it works. And set up a fund so that every single inner city child gets a trip to the countryside once a term and spends the night there. Lots of sponsorship opportunities there.