As I begin my term as CLA President I am pleased to have this opportunity to outline some of my priorities for the coming months and beyond.
The CLA continues to go from strength to strength, successfully representing members’ interests at EU, national and local levels across England and Wales as well as providing expert practical advice and guidance.
It is crucial to our lobbying activity that policy makers recognise that rural businesses – including our farming businesses – are modern, innovative and play a critical role in their communities and the wider economy. Reinforcing and increasing this recognition will be a high priority for me throughout my time leading the organisation.
It’s a tough time for our farmers, low commodity prices are causing sleepless nights across all sectors. It is a priority to ensure that, as the country debates our future relationship with the European Union, the Government has a plan to sustain our rural economy, especially farming, whatever the outcome of the vote. This means making sure the Basic Payment Scheme is working and our farmers will get the vital support payments they need, both this year and in the future.
The CLA’s core role is to defend private property rights and we will do so in engaging with the Government on fracking. We are also renowned for taking a long-term view to best serve members, ensuring that the emerging policy environment allows land-based businesses to grow and helping rural communities to thrive. Our work on enabling the delivery of sympathetic rural housing is a prime example and this will remain an important priority in the coming months.
The housing crisis has been one of the dominant political themes of 2015. In my judgement it is the defining economic issue of our generation. I believe passionately in the critical role landowners play in providing homes across our English and Welsh rural communities, not least in National Parks. We are working to ensure that politicians, the media and policy officials are in no doubt about the specific challenges facing us and the potential solutions.
The ambition of the Housing and Planning Bill, which has started its progress through Parliament, is noble. However there are some real issues with a number of the proposals.
Forcing rural local authorities to deliver “starter homes” and extending the right to buy to Housing Association tenants both present a threat to the provision of affordable rented homes. We have big concerns these proposals will put off landowners from bringing forward much needed land for development, which could be used to help tackle the shortage of affordable homes in their communities.
We are opposing the starter home clause and pushing for a complete exemption from the right to buy provisions for all rural settlements of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants. One solution we are proposing is for landowners who seek planning permission for housing development to be able to own and manage their own affordable houses rather than rely on housing associations.
I would like to mention just one more very important priority, which is the progress on digital connectivity in the countryside. I am proud that the CLA has been extremely effective in campaigning for this vital infrastructure in the countryside, and the Government’s commitment last month to a Universal Service Obligation of 10Mbps is a very important success for rural businesses. We will keep the pressure on until Government has connected every home in the country and has delivered on this commitment.
I am pleased that we have a strong team based here in Richmond representing members across the North of England. I look forward to meeting with CLA Members in Yorkshire over the coming months to hear their views and discuss CLA activity for the coming year.