The Cotswolds is a beautiful place to live, and having made it my home for 32 years, I feel proud to represent some of the area’s iconic places like Bourton on the Water. Yet it isn’t simply a museum for tourists, it’s a thriving district with a strong rural economy and history. But what makes the Cotswolds such a wonderful place to live, also provides significant challenges.
The desirability of the countryside means that house prices in the Cotswolds are well out of reach for the average person. The area has one of the biggest gaps between average salary and average house price outside of London.
For those who don’t know, The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) stretching from Stratford on Avon to Bath. More than half the Cotswolds area forms the “Cotswolds District Council”. Gloucestershire County Council governs this part of the Cotswolds plus parts of the Severn valley and all of the Forest of Dean, three very different areas.
The rural, sparsely populated nature of the place means public transport is lacking. Two train stations in a 60-mile-long district. Buses either non-existent or cut back due to lack of cash. Car travel is almost the only way to get around, yet for our young people this is often unaffordable, with insurance premiums sky-high. Older people too who cannot now drive are also left isolated.
The so-called playground of the rich and famous has its pockets of real deprivation. In the past, council housing was routinely built at the far edge of isolated villages. Now with a lack of buses (and for some people little or no mobile phone signal) they are quite literally on their own.
And, with the Gloucestershire County Council offices located in the heart of Gloucester city, well away from the Cotswolds, it often feels like we are left behind. This is exemplified by recent celebration of £12.8 million being awarded to help complete the ‘missing link’ of the County Council’s ‘cycling spine’ in Gloucester, that might eventually stretch between Stroud and Bishops Cleeve. Looking at the maps provided by the County Council, the Cotswolds barely features in proposals to fund active travel infrastructure. There is a huge appetite for active travel in the Cotswolds, yet it feels like the County Council has left us behind, without any proposals to make walking and cycling safer in our towns and villages.
It is the same with ambulance response times – while many of the districts in Gloucestershire are hitting the response time targets, the Cotswolds hasn’t once done so in the last 22 months and, for all but one month during this time, it was the worst performing district in the county. This means that people suffering from a life-threatening condition in the Cotswolds have a lower chance of survival than if you live elsewhere in the County. That is simply not acceptable.
It is critical, over the next few years of this Council term, that the Cotswolds starts to be recognised as just as deserving of help as every other district in the county. This is something that I and my colleagues will fight for, because the Cotswolds deserves better and needs “Levelling Up”.
Ed: West England Bylines is party independent and welcomes articles from all political parties. We care about our area and publish articles to highlight issues and propose solutions to them, like this recent article on river pollution.