It’s time we talked about rural deprivation and transport…

Rural poverty and deprivation is a concept that most people don’t associate with the South Coast of England. Often when people think of the term ‘deprivation’ images of the North of England and Wales spring to mind, as the loss of mining communities have left behind many previous closely knit communities. However, while there was the loss of mining in Cornwall, people associate rural communities to be of an almost idyllic bliss, but the reality is completely different. People are ignored here, often felt like their views don’t matter and that no one listens to them. Opportunities and education have been quashed due to poor transport links and its about time someone started listening to rural communities.

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The picture above was taken at my aunt’s farm. This is probably a typical mental image of what people think when I say I come from Devon, yes its true Devon has beautiful landscapes, but so does areas in the North of England and in Wales- it doesn’t mean we are any less deprived.

What sparked this blog post is today I read that the Government plans to end the sale of petrol engined cars by 2040. Some may say its a bold move and it is a positive commitment to the Paris Agreement, however, I believe this move will only increase the backwardness of rural areas as we simply don’t have the infrastructure to support this.

As part of my job, I travel a lot around Devon and there simply aren’t the facilities to support electric cars. Motorway services barely have them (I mean there is probably one, if that), and there aren’t even any motorways in Cornwall, meaning the chances of stumbling across a charging port in the South West (unless you are in Bristol) are greatly reduced. So, communities that are already behind in terms of infrastructure will be further penalised because there hasn’t been significant investment to support the move to electric only cars. Since you basically need a car to travel across the South West, as buses and trains are a myth here, the penalisation of citizens for not having electric cars is going to further increase the inequality gap- not just within the region, but within the country too.

Another question which springs to mind, albeit more of a national question, is ‘are the government going to increase investment into renewable sources of energy?’ As if we all change to electric cars by 2040, what is the point if we are using fossil fuels to power these? It will produce a marginal reduction in CO2 emissions and probably push the price of electricity sky high without renewable sources. Since 2040 is just over 20 years away, there would have to be significant changes to the way we consume and produce energy to support this mass change to electric/ hydrogen cars. With the current measures of austerity, I just don’t think this target is realistic for anywhere but London. Once again, rural communities will probably be the last people to benefit from these changes and the ones who are penalised the most for a backwardness that isn’t their fault.

Finally, the move to end the sales of petrol engines by 2040 is even more concerning when you consider the state of public transport. People moan in Southampton when a bus is late, but all I have to say is ‘at least your bus turned up’. The price of public transport in Devon is extorinate and you definitely don’t pay for service, in fact, what you pay for is a reduced service, late buses, or buses not turning up at all. This majorly prices people out of jobs in cities like Exeter, as often it can cost two hours wages (hourly rate) for a day return- and most of the time you can’t get into the city for the time you need. At my school, it was literally a mantra for us to learn to drive once we turned 17, and thank god I did, as there simply aren’t any jobs or reliable transport in the town I live in. In addition, cuts to Further Education means that the local college has stopped doing A levels, so you either have to trape to Exeter or Taunton (getting the bus at 7am- I might add) to have a choice in qualifications. This post might all seem doom and gloom, however, it never used to be like this. When my dad’s family moved to Devon when he was 16, there were trains all over Devon. You could get to places like Okehampton, Ilfracombe, and could get into our town centre in Tiverton. Dad talks about going to the seaside up in North Devon with his family on a train, something which you can’t do now. So, by bringing in electric cars, will the government replace some of these lost railways or make sure we at least have a reliable bus service? I highly doubt it.

You might think I am making a big hoo-hah about transport when people will always be able to get in their cars. However, its more the era of pessimism that this lack of transport has caused. Opportunities have been taken away from young people, causing them to either leave the county or confine themselves to a life of rural poverty. Devon has the highest proportion of old people in the country and I have no doubt this lack of transport has led to a ‘brain drain’ from the county. Yes, I support the idea of electric cars, as long as they come from renewable charging points and don’t massively penalise rural regions- which this government plan looks set to do.

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