Dorothy Fairburn: Give our countryside entrepreneurs a level playing feld

A MOMENTOUS year draws to a close with the arrival of the coalition Government heralding a new era of bottom-up governance and austerity. Over recent months,it has beeneliminating quangos, decentralising, localising, changing the planning system and seeking more solutions through the "Big Society" – all with much lower levels of public expenditure. In short – keep it local and keep it cheap. So what does that mean for the rural economy?

Well, first of all there are the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), two of which will be centred on the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions. Both have a remit for surrounding rural areas and one of our key challenges in 2011 is to ensure that the rural economy is properly represented.

We can't do it all on our own. To ensure we have as much influence as possible across all LEPs, we are encouraging farmers and landowners to get to know the individuals involved in their area. It is only through this co-ordinated grassroots level approach that we will make a real difference.

One of the many media-friendly soundbites from Downing Street has been the phrase "make a job, don't take a job" which is of course something that farming and the rural economy as a whole has been doing for years.

When it comes to competing on a level playing field with their urban counterparts, our countryside entrepreneurs should have some assistance in 2011, following the latest announcement that 830m will be made available for the delivery of superfast broadband.

The leap-frogging from rural hubs being proposed to help rural communities receive fast broadband is something the CLA has been advocating for years and so we are eagerly waiting to see more detail on these plans.

Whatever happens, key to the success of delivering a community broadband scheme is a united approach from local residents and I believe that landowners are ideally positioned to act as the lynch pin that can pull a project together.

No discussion about the future of the rural economy would be complete without mention of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is due for a major overhaul in 2013.

The CLA was pleased to see that the European Commission's recent paper on the future of the CAP remains on broadly the right track – providing adequate funding to ensure both food and environmental security.

The future CAP will pay more attention to the non-market public goods produced by farmers – such as biodiversity and cultural landscape conservation – which should help secure the future of farming, particularly in the more marginal extensive grazing areas such as the Yorkshire Uplands.

Upland farming has experienced mixed fortunes over the past decade, gradually recovering from the disastrous low of the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, but remains at best a slender and all too frequently, negative margin business.

There could also be an increased role for upland farmers when it comes to tackling the growing problem of climate change – particularly through measures such as peat management and forestation. Indeed, farmers and landowners throughout Yorkshire have a huge role to play in the battle to reduce the nation's carbon footprint. Around 99 percent of all of the UK's heat comes from fossil fuels – a situation which is not sustainable.

Landowners are in the best possible position to benefit from the new Feed in Tariff (FiT) scheme for renewable energy projects, such as wind, hydro and solar, which are guaranteed to generate an income stream for years to come.

On a national level, we are working with the Government to amend the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive, which is due out in June. The CLA wants the incentive for small-scale and domestic renewable heat to be concentrated on rural areas where mains gas is not available – displacing the higher carbon fuels like heating oil, which has a much higher carbon footprint than natural gas.

If we are successful, a viable and accessible incentive should become available which will make the installation of renewable heat a real opportunity for Yorkshire's rural community. We expect it will cover not only wood-fired central heating systems, but also ground source heat pumps and solar thermal panels. More often than not, any type of rural development scheme will require some element of planning approval and this too is an area set for major overhaul in 2011 and beyond under the Localism Bill.

While proposals to let communities have more of a say in key planning issues are welcome, the reforms must support and provide for economic, social and environmental development in the countryside.Finally, I would like to once again remind everyone of the importance of supporting the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE).

This is a real opportunity to demonstrate that farming doesn't need unnecessary regulations in order to preserve the environment. We only have until 2012 to make this work, so if you only do one thing next year, please make sure you sign up to this very worthy initiative.

Dorothy Fairburn is regional director of the Country Land & Business Association.