THE BLOG

Getting A Grip

01/03/2017 15:18 GMT | Updated 01/03/2017 15:18 GMT

Perhaps one can overestimate the impact the Government has on the economy, but such is the role of the state that we ignore their strategic purpose at our peril. February saw two key documents published which impact on many, if not all, rural businesses.

The first was the Industrial Strategy, an oxymoron perhaps to those of us working in and caring for the countryside. While I did not detect much mud on its boots, there were still references to the rural economy in parts - directly or otherwise. That is the problem when central government lives in a city. They should get out more often.

The second was the Housing White Paper, announced to great fanfare, but which received a muted raspberry from commentators concentrating on the urban challenge of supply and demand.

For the CLA there were some significant milestones for our lobbying campaigns. Most significantly is that rural exception sites can be cross subsidised by an element of market housing. We know that many private individuals, such as within the CLA membership, are willing to play their part in provision of affordable housing and reduce the reliance on state sponsored housing associations.

It is also a win that conversion of redundant agricultural buildings for use as affordable housing can benefit from the less onerous planning process of permitted development rights (PDRs). Away from the housing theme, the Government slipped in its reply to the Rural Planning Review and promised to provide guidance to support the development of farm shops, reservoirs, and polytunnels, all critical to modern agriculture, through PDRs.

As I reflect on the agenda the CLA set itself last year in the run up to our Rural Business 2030 conference, this Housing White Paper seems at least a start. What it does not do is address the cultural issues around the planning system, the lack of energy and resource, where time is of the essence and all parties in the transaction need to be positive. There is many a rural based local authority which needs all the help it can get to capture that CLA spirit. Many CLA members talked about it in December at our conference, and do so around kitchen tables and at meetings throughout the year. When members talk to me about creating economic and environmental legacies it is sincerely meant.

Coming up this year are not one but two budgets, the first in a week's time. Straight after that Article 50 will likely be served. The cautious man might say "be careful what you wish for". I believe we are beyond that now and we all need to take hold of our own destiny. As individual businesses we will survive any uncertainty through bold vision, diversity of activity and income, and influencing our markets in greater measure and wherever possible.

As we all take a long view and get to grips with a wide range of challenges, so must Government also: strategies are talk but deeds deliver.