East Anglia’s farmers face ‘the greatest period of uncertainty in a generation’

CLA East director Ben Underwood Picture: SU ANDERSON

CLA East director Ben Underwood Picture: SU ANDERSON - Credit: Su Anderson

East of England farmers are probably facing ‘the greatest period of uncertainty they have faced for a generation’, a landowners’ leader said as a tumultuous year in politics and agriculture reaches its conclusion.

Brexit, rural crime, housing and connectivity will be among the challenges for the region’s farmers, landowners and rural businesses in 2019, Ben Underwood, director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East, predicted.

“All eyes will be on Brexit in 2019, and we are working hard to stand up for the rural economy during this crucial period,” he said.

“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.”

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Despite the lack of clarity, he remained optimistic for the ‘vibrant and innovative’ sector, but called for action on the stumbling blocks it faced.

“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,” he said.

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“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.”

He called for the rural housing crisis to be addressed, with more flexibiliity for planners. “Many planning authorities are restricting responsible development and writing off villages as unsustainable based on outdated criteria.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.”

Rural crime was a constant concern, he said, with fly-tipping, hare coursing and machinery theft top priorities.

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