Dorothy Fairburn: Ensuring voice for rural life as we depart the EU

The impact of Brexit on farming remains to be seen.
The impact of Brexit on farming remains to be seen.
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THE outcome of the European Union referendum will undoubtedly shape the future of our rural landscape in 2017 and beyond. The CLA’s focus will be to ensure the voice of the rural economy is heard.

Future trade within the EU, and exploring new markets outside of it, will be a major issue, and we will press the Government to form new free trade areas where we can sell our farming goods. We have recently co-signed a letter to the Prime Minister, stressing the importance of tariff-free access to the EU single market, as this will be vital for UK farming and food production.

Brexit also implies the demise of the Common Agricultural Policy, along with its associated payments to support farming. The CLA is working on a bespoke British Agricultural Policy to take its place, saving us from reams of red tape and forming a policy that works for landowners, farmers and, ultimately, the wider rural economy.

There is a great opportunity to review the existing regulatory framework once the Great Repeal Act has, after Brexit, transposed all EU legislation into UK law. Initially, this Act will provide short-term certainty, but in the longer term it can be reviewed to establish new and better outcomes, whilst at the same time removing barriers and red tape that so often inhibit business growth.

Despite the promises of some, it is likely that we will see a decline in financial support from a UK Government for farming post-Brexit. It is expected that future direct payments will have a strong environmental theme to them, for instance, supporting flood prevention works on farmland.

Directly after the referendum, the CLA published a series of briefings which set out the ‘New Opportunities’ that the Government can help deliver for the rural economy. These put forward fresh ideas for food, farming and the environment outside of the EU, and we recently launched our Rural Business 2030 campaign at our inaugural Rural Business Conference in Westminster.

The aim is bring businesses and policy-makers together to discuss practical ways to achieve a robust, productive and sustainable rural economy by 2030. The 2030 horizon was chosen to match the Government’s ambition to build a new economic strategy for the UK, and the CLA wants to ensure that the rural economy is given its due place.

Brexit aside, we will continue to lobby on bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas. The issue of connectivity involves not only fixed line broadband, but mobile coverage as well to ensure the wider benefits are obtained from the digital economy.

Rollout of superfast rural broadband has been too slow and the Government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) of 10Mbps by 2020 is not guaranteed to be met. In light of the suggested split between BT and Openreach, the CLA will continue to seek assurances on future investment to further support rural digital connectivity, inclusive of mobile network coverage, by delivering broadband to rural areas.

This year we have launched our ‘Report hare coursing’ campaigns in West Yorkshire and Humberside policing areas to address this abhorrent crime in our rural communities. In the New Year, we plan to extend this into Lancashire.

Earlier this year, we welcomed new regulations which enable local councils to issue fixed penalty notices or fines of up to £400 for small scale fly-tipping. More needs to be done to address this issue, and we will continue our call to deal with offenders more robustly.

The CLA continues to lobby to ensure that housing, vital to Yorkshire’s rural economy, is available to the people that need it most in our countryside. Earlier this year, and following sustained pressure from the CLA, we welcomed the Government’s new planning guidance for councils.

The guidance clarifies when it is possible to change the use of former agricultural buildings into residential properties. We will continue in our efforts to press for more such conversions as it will alleviate the rural housing shortage.

At the recent Northern Farming Conference, much was said about the global strength of the ‘British Brand’ in terms of farming produce, and that we should capitalise on this in the years ahead. The best way to support this brand is to encourage consumers locally to buy British food, and to make sure that food is adequately labelled as such.

On 26 January next year, it will be 110 years since the CLA founders first met at The Station Hotel in York (in 1907) to promote the interests of agriculture and landownership in a constructive and progressive manner. Despite all the changes over this period, the CLA has remained steadfast in amplifying the voice of rural landowners and farmers, and will continue to do so in future.

Dorothy Fairburn is the regional
director of CLA North.