Farming opinion: Landowners ‘don’t enjoy wide political sympathy but need to make their case’

Outgoing CLA President Henry Robinson

Outgoing CLA President Henry Robinson - Credit: Archant

As I draw to the end of my six years as an officer of the CLA, the last two as president, I want to reflect on what an honour it has been to lead such an important and influential rural organisation, writes outgoing CLA president Henry Robinson.

Outgoing CLA President Henry Robinson

Outgoing CLA President Henry Robinson - Credit: Archant

The need to have someone making the case for landowners and rural businesses, responding to Government, the non-governmental organisations (NGO)s and the press has never been more important, and, as we all appreciate, landowners do not necessarily enjoy wide political sympathy.

Hence our case needs to be made with intelligence and with care, and with this in mind I am enormously grateful to CLA staff whose expert advice has made my job and that of my fellow officers far easier than it might otherwise have been.

I also thank the army of volunteer CLA members who selflessly give up their time to sit on branch committees, such as those in Suffolk and Essex, and road test our policies as well as furnishing us with great commonsense and practical examples, which are a vital part of the lobbying process.

Much like managing farms, estates and other rural businesses, lobbying is a long-term strategy. Big changes come rarely and when they do they are often unexpected.

We have a new Government in a hurry and there is a major reorganisation taking place on the political left.

The way we are being governed is in a period of flux, whether it be our relationship with Europe or the increasing devolution of powers to Wales and to our cities and regions. Major changes are happening and we will need to adapt to them.

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However, it is reassuring that the CLA continues to make the case for practical changes that really will make a difference to the way members run their businesses and manage their land.

We have achieved great improvements to the way in which CAP reform and agri-environment schemes have been implemented; we have been at the centre of the debate on rural housing; and our carefully timed housing policy document was well received and influential.

With agriculture across the board having a very difficult time, many members are reliant on their let properties, either residential or business, and the CLA’s work in this area has been extremely important: we have helped ensure changes to the planning framework and, above all, the extension of a range of permitted development rights that mean all members have far more options and flexibility in how they bring old buildings into modern and economic use.

We have also made considerable progress in our longstanding campaign to change the injustice of the laws on Compulsory Purchase.

If there are changes it will be as a result of more than a decade of lobbying by the CLA.

A long-term concern for all members is proper rural broadband speeds. Some have them, and inevitably then take them for granted; too many, especially in Suffolk and Essex, still struggle with glacially slow connections or cannot get connected at all. Our fight to improve this situation will continue.

Every member who gets involved with the CLA says: “I never realised we covered so many areas.” Space does not allow me to detail all the work we do on access, renewable energy, taxation and tenancies, but these are also areas in which we are deeply engaged on your behalf.