FIVE HUNDRED farmers and rural businesses met in Westminster yesterday (Thurs 28) to discuss the post-Brexit countryside with Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) conference called for Government to commit to a new Enterprising Countryside Charter to help give rural businesses and countryside communities the ability to adapt and flourish post Brexit.

Tim Breitmeyer, CLA president said those living and working in the countryside needed to be ready for rapid and significant change. "We have a thriving entrepreneurial and creative rural business sector which is up for challenge and ready to make the most of the opportunities Brexit presents.

“Rural businesses currently invest around £13bn each year in, for example, new technologies, generating renewable energy, start-ups such as restaurants on farm, and vineyards. This business investment is crucial for local communities, creating new rural jobs, food production and the environment, and Government must not overlook it as plans are drawn up for post-Brexit Britain.”

By committing to the CLA's Enterprising Countryside Charter he said Government could create a more positive environment for rural businesses," giving them the confidence to make the new investments needed for a strong rural economy as we adapt to life outside the EU and well beyond.”

The Charter has five policies which the CLA says are essential for rural businesses to grow post-Brexit:

o Rural Roaming between networks for better 4G mobile coverage in the countryside

o new Rural Enterprise Frameworks for better business growth support locally

o use of Rural Enterprise Plans to improve consistency in the planning system

o bringing the current outdated criteria for a ‘sustainable village’ into the 21st Century

o extending the remit of the Minister with responsibility for rural business across both Defra and BEIS.

The CLA said data from its new survey underlined the need for Government to commit to those policies. Of 1,600 landowners, farmers and rural businesses surveyed, the majority are planning to invest in business growth in the next five years, such as setting up a rural visitor attraction or converting a redundant farm building for new use.

However, many feel limited by major barriers such as lack of broadband / mobile coverage, the complexities of local planning policy, and uncertainty about Brexit outcomes. The new data also highlights a lack of Brexit contingency planning in the rural sector.

Mr Breitmeyer said: “Only 21 per cent of rural businesses, including farms, have started making Brexit contingency plans despite the far-reaching impacts anticipated for the countryside reflecting the uncertainty many are feeling. However, transformation in farming, land management and rural business is also being driven by longer-term influences such as social change, the digital revolution, and the need to tackle climate change.”

The survey - carried out in October - showed the extent of likely change in the longer term with 42 per cent considering using more land for environmental enhancements; 32 per cent considering nusing more for housing; and 30 per cent considering using more for recreation/visitor attractions.

Other findings included 54 per cent plan an investment to grow their business in the next five years. Of those 45 per cent hoped it would benefit the local community; 44 per cent hoped it would create new jobs; 34 per cent hoped there would be an environmental benefit.

Major barriers holding the others back included lack of broadband/mobile coverage and uncertainty about the outcomes of Brexit.

Major barriers holding back the rest from making these kind of investments include lack of broadband / mobile coverage, and uncertainty about the outcomes of Brexit.