Dorothy Fairburn: Our 2015 manifesto for region’s rural heartland

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With a General Election just around the corner and volatility in commodity prices looking set to stay for the foreseeable future, 2015 is shaping up to be a challenging and uncertain time for many farmers and landowners in the region.

Over the past 12 months, the CLA has racked up some important lobbying victories aimed at bolstering the local rural economy as we enter the new year. From helping to reform an archaic planning system through to improving tenancy rules and introducing new laws to tackle the fly grazing of horses, we have been active on a number of fronts. There is still, however, a huge amount of unlocked potential within rural Yorkshire.

Despite generating a quarter of our country’s economic output, far too much policy making, including the provision of reliable broadband and mobile networks, ignores the needs of rural areas, focusing instead on the development of cities and links between them.

Moving in to 2015, the CLA will be continuing its work to make sure countryside issues are properly understood by decision-makers and civil servants. We will be focusing our efforts on ensuring that rural areas are not disadvantaged because of urban-focused legislation. We will be working at Westminster and on a regional level through key groups and organisations such as Local Enterprise Partnerships to represent the interests of our members.

With the general election in May, there is a window of opportunity to shape the policies and perceptions of the next government whatever colour it may be. My colleagues and I will be meeting candidates and holding hustings meetings in the coming months to ensure we get across a view from the rural North.

This year will see the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and payment system. Throughout the negotiations, the CLA ensured the Government kept more money in direct payments to farmers and landowners and that more of the funding was moved “up the hill” to benefit Yorkshire’s struggling hill farmers.

Entitlements for young farmers will be at the highest level possible and our work on share farming, which included publishing a comprehensive ‘how to’ handbook, will help provide additional options for those starting out, as well as those wishing to reduce their workload or share their expertise. All this is extremely important for the industry’s future.

Planned improvements to our road and rail network announced by the Government in 2014 will inevitably mean more compulsory purchase of land. Any farmer or landowner with the misfortune of having experienced this type of ‘land grab’ will tell you it is one of the most unfair and iniquitous business arrangements you will come across.

Nowhere is this more evident than at Swillington Organic Farm near Leeds where CLA member Jo Cartwright and her family face losing their entire business to the new HS2 line. This type of situation cannot be allowed to continue and the CLA will be pushing hard for reform of the compulsory purchase regime so farmers and landowners are given fair compensation for their land.

We have continued to press for further improvements to the planning system to support rural development. As a direct result of our lobbying, farmers and landowners can now develop redundant farm buildings for offices and houses. Our vision is for more flexible planning for the green belt, including suitable, small-scale developments.

December 2014 saw the first anniversary of the flooding that affected large swathes of East Yorkshire and the Humber Estuary. The Government’s plan to spend £80m on shoring up flood defences is a step in the right direction but only part of the solution to stemming the risk of future flooding.

Farmers and landowners can play a vital role in flood defence but they are currently restricted by expensive environmental surveys and permits as well as having to co-ordinate with a multitude of agencies. The Government must make it easier for landowners by cutting red tape, encouraging new, effective approaches to managing drainage and providing funding to deal with a backlog of maintenance work. Without this support we risk losing valuable agricultural land, homes and communities.

The CLA’s campaign to ban sky lanterns went from strength to strength during 2014 with a number of local councils in the region now including specific clauses in new entertainment licences prohibiting their use. We will continue to work with partner organisations including the national parks to push for an outright ban.

This year will see the return of the CLA Game Fair – the world’s largest countryside show – to Harewood House near Leeds. From Friday July 31 until August 2, we are expecting to attract upwards of 140,000 visitors, generating in excess of £30m for the rural economy. We will be working hard to ensure the event has a distinctive Yorkshire flavour and truly showcases all that is great about our magnificent county.

• Dorothy Fairburn is regional director of the Country Land and Business Association North.