Rural businesses in Sussex could look forward to a much better new year, if national and local government took action to address some key issues for the countryside, says newly elected CLA Sussex branch chairman, Sir Sebastian Anstruther.
Sir Sebastian, who runs the Barlavington Estate near Petworth, has prepared six New Year resolutions for Government, which, he says, would make a significant difference to many of the landowners, farmers and rural businesses represented by the CLA in Sussex.
- Brexit: the future shape of agri-environment policy and the wider international trade agreements that frame this are absolutely critical to our success in 2018. So too will be the supply of labour from abroad, particularly for the horticultural sector which is so important in Sussex.
- Balancing Economy and Environment: as farmers and landowners we balance the economy and the environment every day - we know we have to look after the natural assets, including soil and water, on which our businesses depend. To achieve this, we need climate change policies that protect us from droughts, storms and floods, but don’t make fuel too expensive or make unreasonable demands on the energy efficiency of buildings. We need water policies that protect the rivers we love and guarantee water for homes and farms but not at unreasonable cost. Above all we need, as land managers, to get a fair price for the benefits to nature our management provides. And we need tax policies that encourage succession, so that the next generation can carry on our work.
- Infrastructure & Connectivity: we need to improve the A27 and we need a robust electricity grid that lets us connect solar panels and battery storage quickly and cheaply and charge electric cars. We need much, much better broadband and fast, reliable mobile coverage for calls and social media; for mobile web access, remote payments and business on the go; and to support the accelerating uptake of smart technology and automation on farms.
- New Housing and the Planning System: in my community there are young people with young families who can’t get a home in the village they grew up in. These young people cannot take part in the local rural economy and support local schools if they have nowhere to live. Housing is a very complex issue, but building new homes must be part of the solution, not only for open market sale and through Housing Associations but also by landowners building for affordable private rent. At the same time we need to be able to look after the buildings we already have. Homes and agricultural buildings, even Listed Buildings, need to be modernised and adapted to new uses, as the way we live and run our farms and businesses changes.
- Rural Policing: Despite repeated promises of “no cuts to frontline services” our Police are stretched more and more. In rural areas people are more isolated and the impact of crime is just as great, whilst the fear of crime is greater. From petty crime and poaching through vandalism, fly-tipping, abandoned animals, deliberate damage and arson to house-breaking, the theft of critical machinery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and personal intimidation and violence, we’ve all experienced rural crime or know someone who has. The Police need the resources to do the job.
- Education: If we don’t value and nurture and train our young people, we won’t have farms and estates and a rural economy to care about in the future. Our agricultural colleges at Plumpton and Brinsbury do a great job and the South of England Agricultural Society and other organisations help as much as they can, but training at all levels can be expensive and difficult to access in a way that fits the needs of young people starting out in farming and rural business. Government must invest more, and more consistently, in educating the next generation.