Unleashing the rural opportunity

The latest column from CLA East Director Cath Crowther
Cath Crowther - new enews.jpg

Country Land and Business Association Regional Director, Cath Crowther

It was a pleasure to be back at the Suffolk Show recently and to be part of a fantastic celebration of rural life in the region. I never cease to be impressed by the energy and excitement that surrounds the show and to have the opportunity to meet with a range of farmers and other rural businesses. British produce is the best in the world, with our farmers upholding the highest environmental and animal welfare standards. We should be very proud of them.

During the show I had the opportunity to meet with many politicians to discuss some of the big issues affecting rural communities. I raised the challenges and potential opportunities of the latest agricultural policy developments, highlighted the importance of supporting profitable and sustainable farming, raised the need for a planning system designed for rural communities, and emphasised the important role our members have in providing homes and jobs in the region.

These topics have been among the key points of the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign for a number of years now. It is therefore encouraging to see the government announce this week a wide-ranging package of measures aimed at helping to unleash the potential of the rural economy.

The report, ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’, sets out government plans to boost rural communities by improving planning, housing, digital connectivity, transport, jobs and tackling rural crime.

Among the measures announced include:

  • A commitment to consult on making it easier for farmers to convert redundant agricultural buildings into new houses by cutting red tape. Planning rules could be changed to provide a more generous threshold delivered through a more streamlined planning process.
  • A network of ‘rural housing enablers’ to act as brokers between developers and communities. Backed by £2.5m of funding, they will identify sites with local support for development and in keeping with the local area.
  • A new £7m fund to test new ways to bring together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity to support farmers and tourism business access fast and reliable connectivity in remote areas.
  • Legislate by the summer to increase fly-tipping and litter penalties and consult stakeholders on ringfencing the use of these fines to fund further action on fly-tipping.

The report acknowledges that rural areas already contribute 15% to England’s economy, which amounts to more than £250bn of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign, launched in 2019, identified that the rural economy can contribute even more.

The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average. With the right government support, closing this gap could add £43bn to the national GDP. The CLA devised and championed a series of practical recommendations that would deliver:

  • A fully connected countryside
  • A planning system designed for rural communities
  • Profitable and sustainable farming
  • Investment in skills and innovation
  • A simpler tax regime

The CLA has constantly pushed the government for an economic blueprint to boost prosperity and productivity. The government is finally listening to business owners who are determined to help grow the economy, create jobs and strengthen our communities. It must now act with urgency to deliver these promises and match the ambition of rural businesses at every turn.

I will be emphasising this at the remaining major agricultural shows in our region this month including Cereals, Groundswell, Lincolnshire Show and Royal Norfolk Show among others. I very much hope to see you there.