Dorothy Fairburn: After Brexit, rural voice must be heard

The CLA will continue to stand up for farmers in uncertain times.
The CLA will continue to stand up for farmers in uncertain times.
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AFTER many months of discourse, speculation and opinion we now know for sure that the future for Yorkshire’s farmers and landowners lies outside of the European Union.

While it’s a great result for some and a disaster for just as many, the CLA’s focus will be to ensure the voice of the rural economy is heard.

At this year’s Great Yorkshire Show we are publishing New Opportunities – the first in a series of four separate papers examining opportunities and putting forward fresh ideas for food, farming and the environment outside of the EU.

In tandem with this, we are also launching our Rural Business 2030 campaign. This is a new CLA initiative culminating in our inaugural Rural Business Conference in Westminster on December 6. The programme will bring businesses and policy makers together to discuss practical way to achieve the vision of a robust, productive and sustainable rural economy by 2030.

We have lined up a selection of our region’s up-and-coming rural businesses to showcase their products and services at the Great Yorkshire Show and talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

From brewers to flower growers via hoteliers and retailers, the rural economy is a diverse market place with its own, and often unique, set of challenges and opportunities.

Many of you will also be reading this article online and, thanks in no small part to persistent CLA lobbying, the Government has confirmed it will finally deliver the legal guarantee of internet connection for all premises in rural areas.

The Digital Economy Bill will, amongst other measures, enshrine the universal service obligation for broadband in law – meaning that all homes and businesses, wherever they are located, will have a right to broadband coverage of at least 10 megabits per second by 2020.

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. Running a business faced with poor broadband and mobile reception is a virtually impossible task.

The battle to give farmers more power to convert redundant farm buildings in to homes or work spaces continues. Following sustained pressure from the CLA, the Government published new planning guidance for local councils on how they should interpret permitted development rights.

The new advice clarifies when it is possible to change the use of former agricultural buildings into residential properties. This in turn will help to deliver beneficial economic growth and much needed new homes in rural areas.

There is simply just not enough affordable property available, which means young, talented people are forced to look elsewhere for employment opportunities. Unless we tackle this problem head on we are condemning our rural communities to a slow and painful death.

The CLA is working to ensure that housing is available to the people that need it most. We are arguing for the introduction of specific amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill currently before Parliament, exempting housing association homes in rural areas from the proposed right to buy, which would be extremely damaging to the supply of affordable homes.

The act of littering our countryside is perhaps one of the most emotive issues we are involved in. It still incenses me that anyone thinks it is acceptable to dump their rubbish in to a verge or field – yet still it continues. The CLA has welcomed a change in the law making it easier for authorities to seize flytippers’ vehicles, and in some circumstances allowing them to destroy vehicles which have been seized. The changes broaden the range of offences for which a vehicle can be seized; remove the need for a warrant to be obtained; and set out the circumstances under which the authority may sell or destroy property.

We have also been active in bringing in tougher measures for those who abandon horses in an act known as fly-grazing. The new Control of Horses Act gives landowners powers to take fly-grazed horses to a place of safety immediately, notifying local police within 24 hours.

Whether or not the rural economy will be better or worse off outside of the EU remains to be seen but CLA members can rest-assured that when it comes to setting the agenda for the countryside, they have a powerful voice on their side.

Dorothy Fairburn is the CLA North regional director.