General election is 'make or break' for the countryside

Rural and countryside campaign groups are seeking radical ambition from political leaders
Rural and countryside campaign groups are seeking radical ambition from political leaders

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called an early UK general election for Thursday 4 July, as rural campaigners warn that it is 'make or break' for the countryside.

Mr Sunak made the surprise move in a rain-soaked speech outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday (22 May), as he bids to win a fifth term in office for the Conservative Party.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of Labour, which is in the lead in national opinion polls, responded by saying it was "time for change" away from "Tory chaos".

As the election nears, countryside campaign groups are seeking radical ambition from political leaders amid a series of issues impacting rural areas.

These include new policies for increasing domestic food production, rural economic growth, tackling the housing crisis in the countryside and bearing down on crime which frequently blights farmers.

CPRE, a countryside charity that campaigns on rural issues, warned that the election would be "make or break" for the countryside.

"The next government will be faced with era-defining decisions on housing, environmental protections and energy supply," said Elli Moody, the charity's policy director.

"These will have big impacts on rural communities and our finite supply of land. We urge all political parties to think about the future while tackling the priorities of today.

"With enough political will, it is possible to build a Britain fit for the future and protect the countryside for everyone's benefit."

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents thousands of farmers and landowners, added that governments - both past and present - had treated rural areas as a 'museum'.

According to the CLA, the UK's rural economy is around 19% less productive than the national average, with many barriers to economic growth.

Its president Victoria Vyvyan said: "Every party needs to prove it matches the ambition, the talent, the work ethic and the values of the rural community.

"We don't want nice words, we want a plan, and a commitment to a realistic budget for the future of agriculture.

"Whichever party produces a robust and ambitious plan for growth in the rural economy will secure support, and the CLA stands ready to work with them to unleash its full potential."

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is welcoming the announcement from the prime minister because sheep farmers "need some stability and a clear future direction".

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker said: “You do get to a point where speculation and growing uncertainty gets in the way of progress.

"I welcome the fact that we now know the date of the election and we can get on with this, get it out of the way, and move forward again from the summer.

“Sheep farmers, like others, need some stability and a clear future direction, accepting that we are working in a world where change is inevitable and, in many cases, desirable."