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Farming

Can Labour reconnect with the countryside?

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Labour needs new rural stategy: Thinktank report claims

LABOUR must reconnect with the politics and culture of the countryside to be confident of winning the next general election, according to a new Fabian Society report published today. To secure a working majority the party will need to capitalise on the demise of Ukip and the decline of the Liberal Democrats and gain seats in both rural and semi-rural constituencies.

Labour Country, a new report from the Fabian Society, supported by the Countryside Alliance, shows Labour still has a way to go to win over rural voters. The report argues that to gain countryside seats Labour needs to be seen as ‘a natural party of the countryside’.

To win a UK majority, the party does not need to beat the Conservatives across all rural areas, but it does need to be competitive. Of Labour’s target seats ahead of the next general election, 16 are rural and a further 28 have at least 3,000 rural inhabitants. A YouGov/Fabian Society poll shows that as things stand:

The Conservatives lead Labour by 54% to 31% in rural England and Wales (23 points)

Even amongst working class rural voters the Conservatives beat Labour by 49% to 35% (14 points)

But in better news for Labour, the party is ahead of the Conservatives in rural England and Wales among people aged under 50 (48 per cent to 36 per cent) and among those who voted remain in the EU referendum (45 per cent to 34 per cent). There are large numbers of both groups across rural England and Wales, despite the countryside being older and more Eurosceptic than the nation as a whole.

The report identifies the policy areas that are key to Labour rebuilding its connection with rural voters – including transport, housing and farming. But focus groups conducted for the report also show the party needs a shift in how it campaigns and organises to ‘rural-proof’ everything it does.

The report concludes that Labour’s next manifesto should set out an economic strategy that delivers for rural areas. It makes recommendations in four key policy areas:

A place-based industrial strategy:

  • support for small-scale enterprise and manufacturing
  • place-based investment
  • support for technical education

Better rural transport:

  • the restoration of the rural bus routes lost since 2010 and the municipalisation of bus services
  • reviewing the effects of the Beeching cuts to rural train services

Local, affordable housing:

  • democratic local involvement in planning
  • affordable and social housing to meet local need
  • small-scale development on disused plots of land
  • architectural form that fits the environment

A post-Brexit agricultural settlement:

  • a new support system that values the labour that sustains the countryside, rebalanced towards small-scale and marginal farms as well as the provision of public goods

Shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Sue Hayman MP said: “The Conservatives take rural communities for granted, imagining that they have their votes sewn up. But it is all too clear that they have nothing of substance to say on the real challenges facing rural communities.

“As the member of parliament for a rural constituency in West Cumbria, I know only too well how creaking Victorian infrastructure, rural poverty and a lack of employment opportunities for young people are leading to a growing disconnect between city and countryside. At the same time, austerity is leading to the steady erosion of the pubs and post offices, bank branches and local businesses that serve as the heart of so many of our small towns, villages and hamlets.

“This new report outlines positive recommendations for how to take on the Conservatives in their rural heartlands and deliver for rural communities across England and Wales.”

Andrew Harrop, general secretary at the Fabian Society said: “To win the next election Labour must gain seats with lots of rural voters and that will take a big shift in the way the party campaigns and organises. But there is room for optimism, with Labour now leading the Conservatives among rural voters under the age of 50.

“As a former Labour candidate in a rural seat, I know myself that the party is often dismissed as an ‘urban’ intruder that does not understand country life. Labour must prove to countryside voters that it is on their side with rural-friendly policies for saving banks, bus routes and countryside businesses.”

Baroness Ann Mallalieu, Labour peer and president of the Countryside Alliance said: “There is no doubt that there can be no future Labour government without improved support in the countryside, but this can only be achieved if the party gets serious about making a credible policy offer to the countryside. For too long Labour have conflated rural issues with animal issues, to the detriment of Labour’s vote in the countryside. This report lays out how Labour can correct this trend and challenge the Conservative party’s rural dominance, by speaking to the genuine concerns of people in the countryside.”

Farming

NFU Mutual warns on fire risk

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Fire: Tinder-dry weather risks crops

TINDER dry conditions are putting the UK countryside at high risk of devastating fires, warns NFU Mutual.

The leading rural insurer is concerned that the current heat wave could lead to grassland and arable crop fires, putting lives at risk and costing millions of pounds in damaged crops and machinery.

“The tinder dry conditions and continuing heat wave pose a major fire risk to the countryside, threatening crops, equipment and even personal safety. Every precaution needs to be taken by both farmers and visitors alike.

“The huge fires raging on Saddleworth Moor are a stark warning to the damage fires can cause in very dry conditions.

“Weeks of dry sunny weather mean that huge areas of land across the whole of the UK are at risk of fire – putting lives of people and animals at risk as well as destroying valuable crops,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist.

“In many parts of the country, it’s been the driest June for over a decade and the land is so dry that discarded matches and cigarette ends thrown down from cars can easily start a fire.

“With the hot, dry, weather predicted to continue we are making a plea to countryside dwellers and visitors to take extreme care to avoid starting a fire.”

Because of May and June’s good weather, harvesting is already under way, weeks earlier than usual, and NFU Mutual is urging farmers to reduce the risk of fire by making sure that fire extinguishers on combine harvesters are serviced before harvest starts, and to make sure regular maintenance and cleaning to remove chaff is carried out.

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Farming

Wayleave framework updated for broadband

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Mark Bridgeman, CLA: 'Agreement will speed up broadband delivery'

AN UPDATED wayleave framework has been developed by the CLA and NFU to pave the way for broadband infrastructure providers to speed up the roll-out of rural broadband while ensuring fair treatment for landowners.

The updated national Rural Communications Agreement, announced at the CLA Connected Countryside conference, includes advisory rates of payment for the installation of new underground digital infrastructure on private land, representing a 4% rise on previous rates set in 2012.

Available to all broadband infrastructure providers, the new wayleave agreement is designed to make it easier for landowners and broadband providers to reach agreement. The CLA represents 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales.

CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman said: “People living and working in rural areas have fought long and hard for better broadband provision, and the wayleave agreement that we announce today will help speed up fixed line broadband delivery without eroding property rights. It creates a national framework that provides certainty for individual landowners and smooths the way for faster roll-out.

“This revised national Rural Communications Agreement is the culmination of more than a year’s work, and we are pleased to announce this positive step forwards. But there is more work to do: the CLA will keep the pressure on broadband providers to deliver the fast, affordable and reliable connections that the countryside needs, and we will hold Government to their promise of a Universal Service Obligation of 10Mbps by 2020.”

Gigaclear Chief Executive Matthew Hare said: “The rural network build programme that Gigaclear already has underway will reach over 300,000 homes and businesses by 2021. This agreement simplifies and streamlines the agreement of wayleave requests.”

NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts said: “We know how increasingly important rural broadband connection is to farmers and those with diversified businesses.

“We very much hope that this updated agreement will help to deliver broadband to rural areas which currently have poor, unreliable or non-existent broadband connection. Fast rural broadband is essential for our forward-thinking and dynamic farming industry, especially as we approach exiting the European Union.”

The updated agreement suggests advisory payment rates for installation of equipment that landowners can enter into with companies wishing to install a broadband network. The agreement also sets out the rights and responsibilities of both landowners and broadband operators. The suggested rates and agreements will help to cut down the time and cost of negotiating individual wayleaves, making it easier and more cost effective to get the infrastructure for broadband put in place.

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Farming

Minister kicks access issue into long grass

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No clarity on access to land: Government rejects fresh legislation

THE SUSTAINABLE M‚ÄčANAGEMENT of Natural Resources Consultation process has finally concluded, but there’s no sign of progress, according to Rebecca Williams, Director of CLA Cymru.

Saying that the time has come to make decisions, Ms Williams said: “How we manage our natural resources, must form part of our vision for a vibrant, sustainable, competitive rural economy delivering against a range of public goods.

Responding to the Welsh Government Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM’s statement summarising the responses to the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation, Rebecca Williams, Director CLA Cymru, said: “We have a unique opportunity to define the future of land management in Wales. Our government processes really must deliver better and faster results. We need to find answers to the vital questions in land management about how the Welsh Government’s Five Core Principles be delivered as a working plan.”

“Last year’s SMNR consultation addressed a very broad range of issues many of which were complex, others seemed disjointed from the main theme. This was an unwieldy and demanding exercise both for organisations and for individuals. The process was protracted, the outcome has been delayed. The substantial number of responses may be encouraging to the Government, but it does also bear witness to the level of concern about the potential vital impact the proposals may have on rural business and the countryside community. There is no doubt that greater subtlety and engagement is required in stakeholder-management.”

While there were over 19,000 responses to the consultation, over 16,000 of those were focussed on one issue – access to land. Of those 16,000 responses, only around 450 answered the questions posed by the consultation and there was a massive number of responses from individuals and campaign groups in favour of widening access to the countryside.

The Welsh Government has, however, shied away from specific legislation to provide greater rights for ramblers, canoeists, cyclists, and other groups in favour of achieving more access to Wales’ countryside.

In a written statement delivered to the Assembly on June 19, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn said: “There were strong but differing views on how best to reform access legislation. We therefore believe that now is not the right time for substantive reform. But we are committed to exploring selected aspects of change where there was greater consensus, including on some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We will continue to facilitate further discussions through established groups such as the National Access Forum.”

Those remarks have been met with disappointment from Ramblers Cymru, the charitable organisation and campaign group that fights for walkers’ access to land.

Angela Charlton, Director of Ramblers Cymru told The Herald: “‘As Wales’ walking charity working to protect and expand the places people love to walk, Ramblers Cymru is disappointed that a year after this consultation was held, we are no clearer about Welsh Government’s ultimate vision for improving access to the Welsh outdoors.”

Ms Charlton drew attention to consultations not producing positive results in terms of policy or legislation, continuing: “We have had 2 major consultations on these issues in the last 3 years, and now face further consultation on as yet undefined changes.

“Through our campaign over 2,500 people took the time to support our call for increased and improved access and protection of our paths, and it is frustrating that we seem no closer to seeing the changes needed. We are however, pleased to continue engaging with Welsh Government to ensure Wales is a world class country for walking and will continue putting proposals forward to help achieve this.”

While the NFU noted the strength of the responses regarding access to land, NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “The consultation contained a number of proposals that were extremely worrying to farmers including granting higher access rights which would have enabled cycling and horse riding on footpaths as well as extending and amending the list of restrictions on CRoW land. We, therefore, welcome the announcement from the Environment Minister that now is not the right time for substantive reform.”

John Davies continued: “We note, however, the Welsh Government is committed to exploring aspects of change where the consultation process showed greater consensus including some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We await information on what these specific areas will be and would highlight that, given 80% of the land area of Wales is agricultural land, farmers are key providers of the landscape and countryside upon which many access and recreational activities depend. Any reforms must consider the safety of access users and should not result in increased costs, burden and liabilities being placed on farmers in Wales.

“We are pleased that the consultation process revealed consensus in the area of keeping dogs on fixed length leads in the vicinity of livestock, which was a generally accepted proposal. The worrying of livestock by dogs is a key concern to our members and we would hope this is an area that can be progressed in the near future.”

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: ” The FUW welcome the news that the Welsh Government have decided now is not the right time for a substantive review to reform access legislation.

“Wales has approximately 16,200 miles of footpaths, 3,100 miles of bridle-paths, and 1,200 miles of byways, and since 1998 the area of land accessible by right to the public has increased threefold. The evidence makes it clear people are not using what is already there, so any changes should focus on increasing responsible use of existing access.”

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