The future development of the countryside was top of the agenda with debates between political and industry leaders at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace.
An impassioned discussion regarding the importance of shooting and fishing to the rural economy was chaired by Alastair Balmain, Editor of The Shooting Times. It examined the recent report from Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) on the ‘Value of Shooting’.
It featured Richard Ali, Chief Executive of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Martin Harper, Director of Conservation for RSPB, Howard Davies, CEO of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Rhodri Thomas of Strutt & Parker.
Mr Ali said: “The PACEC report shows that shooting is good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the countryside – and we’re good at it as Olympic gold medals show.
“The contribution of shooting to the UK is clear. This should be recognised and policy should support and encourage the good which shooting does.”
Kate Green, Managing Editor at Country Life Magazine, chaired the debate on the case for and against building on greenbelt land, which featured CLA Vice-President Tim Breitmeyer, John McLarty from Strutt & Parker, and Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation for the National Trust.
Mr Breitmeyer said: “The CLA has been supportive of the greenbelt in the past, but it has done its job – it is currently only serving to preserve the countryside in aspic.
“We need to review its effectiveness because we want vibrant greenbelt areas to provide society with access to quality green space where they can work, rest, and play.
“There is a need to modernise and look to move to urban buffer zones that allow well thought out and considerate planning, meeting the real needs of modern society.”
Earlier in the day, CLA President Henry Robinson quizzed Farming Minister George Eustice, Labour Shadow Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies and Lib Dem Lord Marks of Henley on Thames on what their parties will do for the countryside. In the following debate, CLA Deputy President Ross Murray clashed with UKIP leader Nigel Farage over Britain’s continued involvement in Common Agricultural Policy and the European Union.
CLA President Henry Robinson today (18 July) told politicians to be “realistic about rural policy” as he launched the CLA manifesto Unlock the Countryside’s Potential.
Joined by Farming Minister George Eustice, Labour Shadow Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies, and Lib Dem Lord Marks of Henley on Thames, Mr Robinson set the CLA vision for rural policies as he opened the President’s debate at the CLA Game Fair.
He said: “If rural businesses are to thrive, they not only need access to broadband, they need access to good quality broadband. That is why we are calling on the Government to create a universal Service Obligation of at least 10Mbps.
“We also urge the Government to stop gold plating rules around CAP payments and start providing some clarity so that we can compete with EU member states.
“The growing population and increasing demand for food and energy sources, is putting more and more pressure on the environment. We want the next Government to look at developing a rural market which recognises conservation as a crop – and reward the providers accordingly.”
Mr Eustice responded to the calls on CAP payments saying the Government had tried to make the system simpler but had failed.
He said: “We tried to hard to provide a simplified system but it is now more complex than before. The new CAP reform is a step backwards but we are working on a more flexible system which will also help improve biodiversity and water
The value of the countryside needs to be understood as part of a bigger picture of the UK’s economy, was Mr Irranca-Davies’ message.
He said: “We have a need for affordable housing to maintain vibrant communities and keep the shops, pubs and schools open – but not enough houses have been built in the countryside for many years.
Mr Irranca-Davies also admitted that land use was something Labour were going to have to grapple with on a strategic level – promising a more ambitious approach and warned of a crisis looming in water
“We are now facing a crisis for our environment as demands on water
increase. We need to get the balance right so we can avoid water
scarcity and the countryside has a vital role to play in this.”
Lord Marks told the packed audience that jobs, homes and service were key concerns for the countryside.
He said: “Diversification is needed in the countryside to provide jobs and this relies on making the planning framework work. The CLA’s manifesto calls for redundant buildings to be developed which is important. Local communities need to take control of this.”