‘Government must commit to a new Enterprising Countryside Charter’ – CLA

The CLA is calling for Government to commit to a new Enterprising Countryside Charter as 500 of its farmers and rural businesses gather in Westminster today to put their views to Defra Secretary Michael Gove.

Today’s CLA (Country Land and Business Association) conference will examine how rural businesses and countryside communities are embracing change and how new policies are required to give them the ability to adapt and the confidence to flourish.

The association represents 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “With Brexit fast approaching and the new Agriculture Bill going through Parliament, those of us living and working in the countryside should be ready for rapid and significant change.

“We have a thriving entrepreneurial and creative rural business sector which is up for the challenge and ready to make the most of the opportunities Brexit presents.

Rural businesses currently invest around £13 billion each year in [a range of areas], for example, new technologies, generating renewable energy, start-ups such as restaurants on-farm, and vineyards.

“This business investment is crucial for local communities, creating new rural jobs, food production and the environment, and the Government must not overlook it as plans are drawn up for post-Brexit Britain.

“By committing to the Enterprising Countryside Charter, Government can create a more positive environment for rural businesses giving them the confidence to make the new investments needed for a strong rural economy as we adapt to life outside the EU and well beyond.”

The CLA’s ‘Enterprising Countryside Charter’ comprises five policies essential to rural business growth post-Brexit:

  • Rural Roaming between networks for better 4G mobile coverage in the countryside;
  • New Rural Enterprise Frameworks for better business growth support locally;
  • Use of Rural Enterprise Plans to improve consistency in the planning system;
  • Bringing the current outdated criteria for a ‘sustainable village’ into the 21st Century;
  • Extending the remit of the Minister with responsibility for rural business across both Defra and BEIS.

New CLA survey data highlights the need for the Government to commit to these policies.

Of the 1,600 landowners, farmers and rural businesses surveyed, the majority are planning to invest in business growth in the next five years, such as setting up a rural visitor attraction or converting a redundant farm building for new use.

However, many feel limited by major barriers such as lack of broadband and mobile coverage, the complexities of local planning policy, and uncertainty about Brexit outcomes. The new data also highlights a lack of Brexit contingency planning in the rural sector.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “Only 21% of rural businesses, including farms, have started making Brexit contingency plans despite the far-reaching impacts anticipated for the countryside reflecting the uncertainty many are feeling.

“However, transformation in farming, land management and rural business is also being driven by longer-term influences such as social change, the digital revolution, and the need to tackle climate change.

Today is a crucial forum to come together with Michael Gove and discuss how our businesses and communities will adapt to ensure a strong future for the countryside and for all its vital contributions to our nation.

The extent of change for the countryside in the longer term is also highlighted by the new survey data – 30% of rural landowners are currently considering using less of their existing landholding for agriculture in the next 20 years.

Of those, alternative uses suggested include:

  • 42% are considering using more land for environmental enhancements;
  • 32% are considering using more land for housing;
  • 30% are considering using more land for recreation or visitor attractions.