'˜Rural areas need homes, too'

The government's claims that Philip Hammond's cuts in stamp duty in Wednesday's Budget would help a million people get on the housing ladder, drew a warning from the Country, Land and Business Association that the measures were focused too heavily on urban areas.

Theresa May and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond during a visit to Leeds College of Building, the day after his Budget speech

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “It is worrying for a Chancellor to be so explicit in describing a policy so completely focused on urban areas.

“We need more homes of all types across the whole country. The shortage of homes in rural communities is no less acute than in our towns and cities.”

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The CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural business who together manage more than 10m acres of rural land, said landowners in the countryside “stand ready and able to play their part in delivering the homes people need”.

The organisation welcomed Mr Hammond’s increase in the number of small sites in local plans and the promise of further cash for the Home Builders’ Fund, and said it would take part in the forthcoming review into the buildout rates of land with planning permission for housing.

Mr Breitmeyer said: “It is important that we remove any barriers to getting homes built. We will, however, strongly resist the suggestion of blanket changes to policies on compulsory purchase of land for house building. This should only ever be a last resort.

“Councils should be focused on establishing effective partnerships with local landowners not seeking to forcibly remove their property.”

The CLA also warned that rural areas must not be left behind in the rollout of next-generation 5G mobile coverage.

“Rural people will raise a wry smile at the promise of 5G as the much of countryside struggles to get even basic coverage,” Mr Breitmeyer said.

“5G investment must not come at the cost of delivering the well overdue connections that rural areas need.”

The Budget saw UK firms handed a £2.3bn reprieve on controversial business rates as Mr Hammond brought forward plans to swap the way it determines the annual increase of rates from the higher Retail Price Index measure of inflation to the lower Consumer Price Index.

But the CLA labelled the intervention “inadequate”, and said the Chancellor was “merely doing the right thing, but almost a decade too late”.

It added: “Businesses struggling to absorb dramatic rates bill increases imposed this April, hoped for a complete freeze in rates increases planned for next year.”

Mr Breitmeyer said: “We must never again see the dislocation caused by the seven year delay in revaluations experienced in 2016. Too many rural businesses suffer from inaccurate ratings.”

Meanwhile, Michael Gove stood accused after the Budget of trying to fill his Food and Rural Affairs department’s board with cronies.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Tim Farron, made the claim as he said the Cabinet heavyweight was trying to politicise some appointments to Defra. Mr Farron’s intervention followed news that the former National Grid boss, Steve Holliday, was stepping down as lead non-executive director on the Defra board.

Mr Holliday’s move reportedly came after Mr Gove demanded board members should commit several days a week to their roles at the department.

Defra is also losing two other non-executive directors, Catherine Doran and Paul Rew, who have served in their positions for six years.

Mr Farron said: “Mr Gove should be spending his time working out how key environmental and animal welfare standards can be safeguarded after Brexit, not to mention reassuring farmers who are worried about their survival with the prospect of high tariffs and an end to CAP payments.

“Instead it seems he is fiddling with internal departmental rules to politicise Defra’s board and pack it with his cronies. These positions should remain impartial.”

Mr Gove’s management style has been criticised in the past when he held other Whitehall positions, with Labour accusing him of giving jobs to cronies while education secretary.

Defra said it could not comment on the reasons for Mr Holliday’s decision to quit as it had not yet received a formal resignation letter.

A department spokesman said: “Defra is currently running an open competition for new non-executive board members.

“The advert went live on September 9 and ran until October 19. Applications are currently being considered. The recruitment process is being run in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines.”