Boffin hits back at critics
Professor Sally Shortall was unrepentant when Anne Liddon, our reporter from the Borchester Echo, caught up with her following her widely reported remarks about “rural proofing” – a process intended to ensure government policy does not disadvantage rural residents. As readers will remember from previous coverage, the Newcastle University boffin is no believer in special consideration for countryside dwellers and has previously insisted that government policy should target need rather than geography.
Emphasising her own farming background and academic credentials, she went so far as to accuse the Echo of failing in its background research. When challenged over the obvious housing deficit in Borsetshire villages, Professor Shortall conceded that some residents were disadvantaged but insisted your reporter had “the wrong end of the stick” and that she is, in fact, “very sympathetic to Emma Grundy” an Ambridge Parish Councillor who, as readers will recall, has been particularly vocal on this topic.
“There is a rural housing problem but there is also an urban housing problem,” claimed Professor Shortall, before revealing a startlingly intimate knowledge of the private lives of Ambridge families.
“When the Grundy family lost their farm and had to move to Meadow Rise, a Borchester sink estate, everything went wrong for them and Ed Grundy went completely off the rails. Eddie bought a caravan and moved them back to Ambridge because the quality of life was so much better there, and Clarrie was so worried about whether they would have to go back to Borchester,” she pointed out. “This nicely demonstrates that it is not a case of rural disadvantage and urban privilege – the Grundys wanted to get back to the countryside because it was better for their mental health.”
She was equally vociferous when challenged about rural transport problems. Prominent local farmer Brian Aldridge has often complained about the lack of consideration given to land managers.
“We are expected to be custodians of the countryside but we get no special consideration for the added costs of living here,” he said when asked to comment. “It costs me a fortune to fill up the car – and I have no choice but to drive a 4x4 to get around the farm.”
Professor Shortall was unimpressed however and accused Mr Aldridge of being “a polluter eating venison casserole.”
“Don’t talk to me about Brian Aldridge” she fumed. “But I am sympathetic to people like poor old Joe Grundy with his pony and trap. Transport can be a real issue for certain social classes but it’s not about rural or urban. You should go to some of the peripheral urban sink estates where people don’t have cars rather than presuming urban privilege.”
She referred us to her research report on rural proofing for the Northern Ireland Government and suggested we consult the work being carried out by Claire Astbury, Head of Housing Strategy at Luton Borough Council.