Henry Robinson: Proud to have fought for rural rights

THE six years I have spent as an officer of the CLA – the last two as President – have drawn to a close.

It has been an honour to lead such an important and influential rural organisation, and one held in such high esteem.

Working with Government and NGOs to ensure that the countryside is not ignored has never been more important. Our case needs to be made with intelligence and with care, and with this in mind I am enormously grateful to CLA staff in the North region and across England and Wales, whose expert advice has made my job far easier than it might otherwise have been.

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I also thank the army of volunteer CLA members in Yorkshire and beyond who selflessly give up their time to sit on branch and London committees, road testing our policies and furnishing us with great common sense and practical examples. All of this is a vital part of the lobbying process.

Looking to the future – we have a new Government, a major reorganisation taking place on the political left, extensive debate on our relationship with Europe and the opportunity to develop the Northern Powerhouse. Major changes are happening and we all need to adapt to them.

But it is reassuring that the CLA continues to make the case for practical changes that really make a difference to the way rural businesses operate and how land is managed.

We have achieved great improvements to the way in which CAP reform and agri-environment schemes have been implemented. We have been at the centre of the debate on rural housing.

With agriculture across the board having a very difficult time, many members are reliant on their let properties, either residential or business, and the CLA’s work in this area has been extremely important: we have helped ensure changes to the planning framework and, above all, the extension of a range of permitted development rights that mean all members have far more options and flexibility in how they bring old buildings into modern and economic use.

We have also made considerable progress in our longstanding campaign to change the injustice of the laws on Compulsory Purchase. There were some important announcements in the Housing Bill as a result of more than a decade of lobbying by the CLA, and we continue to build towards a fairer system.

A long-term concern for all members is proper rural broadband speeds. Too many still struggle with glacially slow connections and some still cannot get connected at all.

We have seen great success in our campaign to convince Government to commit to a Universal Service Obligation for broadband of 10Mbps, making it a legal right to have access to this service as a minimum. Our fight will continue to ensure this pledge is implemented.

There have been very many highlights over my time as CLA President, not least attending the Great Yorkshire Show.

This is a wonderful stage for rural communities and I was very proud in 2014 to launch the CLA’s Share Farming campaign from the showground. Farming has an ageing profile and it is a very difficult industry for young people to break into. I believe it is vital for the future of the industry that new and younger entrants are given an opportunity to get a foot on the farming ladder, and Share Farming has an important role to play.

Share Farming differs from traditional contract farming as both parties share the risk and the profits on a pre-agreed percentage.

The existing farmer simply provides a proportion of his farmland for the partner to work.

The problem with traditional farming arrangement is that a farmer is either in or out. Share Farming provides a middle ground whereby an ageing farmer, who cannot afford or does not want to retire, can start to wind-down without having to worry about paying the bills.

I have been delighted to meet so many CLA members in Yorkshire in my two years as President and have greatly enjoyed seeing so much of the beautiful and well-managed countryside which they manage with such care and dedication.

The CLA is in very safe hands with my successor as CLA President Ross Murray, and no doubt he will become a very familiar face to landowners and rural businesses in the region as he fights your corner over the coming years.