Largest ever cross-party Senedd investigation into the needs of the rural economy

Landmark new report sets out robust and ambitious blueprint for the Welsh countryside
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The report follows the most comprehensive inquiry ever to be conducted by a cross party Senedd group into the needs of the rural economy

The largest ever cross-party Senedd investigation into the needs of the rural economy has published a landmark new report, setting out a robust and ambitious blueprint for the Welsh countryside.

The Senedd Cross Party Group (CPG) for Rural Growth’s report, Generating Growth in the Rural Economy: an inquiry into rural productivity in Wales, is making a series of low-cost recommendations across infrastructure and connectivity; housing and planning; tourism; and food and farming which, if implemented, could unleash the potential of Wales’ rural economy.

It follows the most comprehensive inquiry ever to be conducted by a cross party Senedd group into the needs of the rural economy. The CPG took evidence from major business groups, employers, unions and others to produce the report, with the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) acting as the secretariat. It will be officially launched at an event at the Senedd at noon today (5 March).

Productivity in Wales as a whole is 16% lower than the UK average, while workers in rural Wales are up to 35% less productive than in urban areas (output £18,000 per capita versus £28,000).

The report sets out a total of 19 low-cost, non-partisan and tangible recommendations which would help the Welsh government address this divide, and match the ambition of its rural communities.

Key asks and solutions developed by the group include:

  1. The re-establishment of a Rural Development Board (RDB) in conjunction with key stakeholders, to act as a focal point for facilitating rural growth, sensitive to sub-regional zones.
  2. The RDB to set out a definitive rural development strategy, setting objectives for infrastructure development, connectivity and rural skills and have the powers and resources to deliver it.
  3. A raft of measures to enable the planning consent system to become an enabler for responsible growth: reviewed local authority local development plans (LDPs), more planning officers to accelerate and improve the planning process, and the introduction of the positive approach of Planning in Principle to enable investment to be made and development to take place.
  4. Urgency in adopting the actions stemming from the Relieving pressures on SACs river catchments to support delivery of affordable housing programme led by the First Minister.
  5. Measures to revitalise the rural tourism industry: Visit Wales to become an arms-length body with resources comparable to equivalents in other parts of the UK, the body should include representatives from the sector. Impact assessments must be undertaken of recent fiscal initiatives and appropriate exemptions should be made to the 182-day threshold for business tax on tourist accommodation.
  6. A review of the terms – and clarity of the funding rates – within the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) to ensure it can continue to support this fundamental pillar of the rural economy is truly sustainable. The recommendation includes a demand for greater flexibility on the proposals to commit farms to 10% cover of trees and habitats.

'Source of prosperity'

Iain Hill-Trevor, Chair of CLA Cymru which represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses across Wales said: “For too long, the Welsh Government has treated rural Wales as a museum, to be preserved for the enjoyment of visitors.

“Instead, Ministers should view the countryside as a source of future growth and prosperity, creating jobs and opportunity while still preserving its inherent beauty.

“Wales needs to generate economic growth and good, skilled new jobs. Both can be delivered by delivering on the recommendations within this report.”

Samuel Kurtz MS, Chair of the CPG, said: “Rural Wales plays a key role in the future prosperity of our nation, but its potential will only be realised if policy makers and government understand its unique nature and needs.

“This cross-party report has taken evidence from a range of sectors throughout Wales, drawing on experiences of those living and working in rural Wales. The recommendations put forward are non-partisan but can act as a catalyst to simulate sustainable growth in our rural economy.

“I’m excited that this is the first report of its kind in the Senedd and I hope whomever is Wales’s new First Minister takes these recommendations seriously, to deliver for rural Wales.”

Case study - the importance of tourism

Margaret Bardsley has been running a small holiday lettings business near Welshpool, Mid Wales, since 2009. She said: “I welcome this report into rural productivity and growth in Wales.

“Furnished holiday accommodation providers have been hit with repeated body blows which have had a major impact both on demand and supply.

“To consider introducing a tourism levy and a licensing scheme right now is truly rubbing salt into the wounds, while the 182-night rule will increase the number of owners selling up, often way beyond the price range of those seeking affordable housing.

“My guests spend a lot of money in the local shops, pubs and restaurants, supporting jobs in the rural economy. If the Welsh government backed rural businesses and helped address the urban-rural productivity divide it would really make a difference.

“Rural businesses are dynamic and forward-thinking, and we’re ready to work with the government to help unleash the potential of the rural economy.”