'Countryside Charter' proposes policies for strong rural sector

Farmers and rural businesses should be ready for "rapid and significant change", the CLA says
Farmers and rural businesses should be ready for "rapid and significant change", the CLA says

A new 'Countryside Charter' has been proposed to deliver a strong Brexit for the rural sector after the UK leaves the EU.

The “Enterprising Countryside Charter” comprises five policies proposed to help stimulate rural business growth post-Brexit.

These are the establishment of rural roaming between networks for better 4G coverage, the creation of new Rural Enterprise Frameworks for better business growth support locally and the use of Rural Enterprise Plans to improve consistency in the planning system.

The policies also include modernising the criteria for a ‘sustainable village’ and extending the remit of the Minister with responsibility for rural business across both Defra and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

It comes as 500 farmers and rural businesses gather in Westminster on Thursday (29 November) to discuss the post-Brexit countryside with Defra Secretary Michael Gove at the CLA Rural Business Conference.

The conference will examine how rural businesses and countryside communities are embracing change and how new policies are required to give them the ability to adapt and the confidence to flourish.

'Rapid and significant change'

The CLA, the organisation behind the Countryside Charter, said those living and working in the countryside should be ready for "rapid and significant change".

CLA President, Tim Breitmeyer said: “We have a thriving entrepreneurial and creative rural business sector which is up for the challenge and ready to make the most of the opportunities Brexit presents.

“Rural businesses currently invest around £13bn each year in, for example, new technologies, generating renewable energy, start-ups such as restaurants on farm, and vineyards.

“This business investment is crucial for local communities, creating new rural jobs, food production and the environment, and Government must not overlook it as plans are drawn up for post-Brexit Britain.”

Mr Breitmeyer added: “By committing to the Enterprising Countryside Charter, Government can create a more positive environment for rural businesses giving them the confidence to make the new investments needed for a strong rural economy as we adapt to life outside the EU and well beyond.”

Barriers to investment

New survey data of 1,600 landowners, farmers and rural businesses shows that the majority are planning to invest in business growth in the next five years, such as setting up a rural visitor attraction or converting a redundant farm building for new use.

However, many feel limited by major barriers such as lack of broadband coverage, the complexities of local planning policy, and uncertainty about Brexit outcomes.

The new data also highlights a lack of Brexit contingency planning in the rural sector.

The extent of change for the countryside in the longer term is also highlighted by the new survey data – 30% of rural landowners are currently considering using less of their existing landholding for agriculture in the next 20 years.