The director of the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) in the East of England says Brexit, rural crime, housing and connectivity will dominate the regional agenda in 2019.
With Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union in March set to be the focus of national and international attention, Ben Underwood has given his thoughts on the 12 months ahead from a regional perspective.
“All eyes will be on Brexit in 2019, and we are working hard to stand up for the rural economy during this crucial period,” said Ben.
“From funding to labour supply, businesses in our region need certainty and assurances to operate and plan for the future. They cannot do this with the current political cloud of confusion and we will be speaking up for our sector and seeking clarity in the next 12 months.
“The bedrock of success for Brexit must include a profitable and thriving farming and food industry, critically backed by a sufficiently robust long term budget. It is a message that the CLA has delivered to Government across 2018 and will continue to do so in the coming year.
“While many questions remain unanswered as we go into 2019, we remain optimistic that our vibrant and innovative sector will continue to be the lifeblood of our rural communities.”
CLA East represents farmers, landowners and rural businesses in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Suffolk. Rural crime, housing and poor digital connectivity are also key issues for many of its members in the region.
“Rural areas in the East of England cannot reach their full economic potential without fast, reliable broadband and mobile phone coverage. Even as we enter 2019 some rural businesses are forced to accept poor speeds and coverage and 4G access varies wildly across our region,” said Ben.
“Government talk of 5G rollout seems ludicrous when vast areas are still struggling with 4G. It is important to walk before running, so the focus must remain on establishing universal 4G before upgrading areas to 5G.
“The rural housing crisis must also be addressed in the coming year. Many planning authorities are restricting responsible development and writing off villages as unsustainable based on outdated criteria. There must be greater flexibility in the planning process to support appropriate levels of development that are in keeping with rural communities and will help them to thrive.”
Tackling rural crime will also be a pressing issue next year and the CLA will continue to meet regularly with senior police officers across the East of England.
“We appreciate that police have a range of significant pressures but we want to ensure that tackling rural crime such as fly-tipping, hare coursing and machinery theft remains a top priority,” said Ben.
“On a day-to-day basis rural crime is a constant concern for many of our members. The fear of crime for those living in often isolated locations and the devastation of being a victim of crime can have a significant impact on rural communities.”
Ben concluded: “Farming and rural businesses are facing perhaps the greatest period of uncertainty they have faced for a generation. It will undoubtedly present many challenges, but hopefully new opportunities as well.”