A SENIOR government advisor has called for urgent action to stop a rising number of Herefordshire residents living in poverty.

Dr Stuart Burgess was speaking at the launch of this year’s State of the Countryside report, written by the Commission for Rural Communities, which he chairs.

The report also expressed concern over the decline in rural services across the county – with residents having to travel further than ever before to reach post offices or banks.

Dr Burgess said poverty in rural Herefordshire was increasing at a greater rate than in built-up areas.

He added that demand for affordable housing in the county’s rural communities had been heightened recently as a result of the number of people looking to relocate to the countryside.

Figures show the average house prices in rural Herefordshire are almost nine times the average annual salary which, according to Dr Burgess, “has to be addressed and addressed quickly”.

According to the report, another sector of rural life that needs addressing is the state of services on offer to residents.

“The decline in crucial services is a major concern, with 32% of people in Herefordshire having to travel more than 2km to their nearest post office and nearly 70% having to travel more than 4km on the road to get to a bank or building society,” said Dr Burgess.

But the government advisor, who visited Shobdon Primary School earlier this year, stressed it was not all doom and gloom.

“Between 1998 and 2007, Herefordshire has seen an increase of 3,231 people working in knowledge-based industries.

“The value of agricultural land rose sharply during 2007, mainly due to increases in the prices of agricultural commodities and high demand for land for ‘lifestyle’ rural properties.

“There are also signs of a renewed sense of optimism amongst farmers, but these trends could increase pressures on environmental quality once more.”