31 October 1997

Leave RDCalone, say country landowners

LANDOWNERS are determined to fight any government attempts to axe or scale-down the Rural Development Commission, according to new Country Landowners Association president Ian MacNicol.

The CLA is unhappy with the governments proposals to set up regional development agencies, which threaten to take away much of the RDCs powers.

Mr MacNicol said he believed the regional development agencies would be urban-dominated and would fail to address the problems of the countryside. Government is expected to release its White Paper on future policy next month.

"They (regional agencies) seem likely to be able to control policy on transport and planning, and we will have to see the amount of resources they receive. It is vital the rural voice is heard on these six or seven regional agencies."

At present, the RDC employs 225 staff and spends around £20m funding rural regeneration. Mr MacNicol expected the commission to be taken away from the department of environment, transport and the regions and be placed within the revised MAFF once the food standards agency was set up. But he insisted it was essential for rural businesses that the RDC remained a viable organisation.

"It will continue to exist because the CLA will make sure it exists. It is crucial for the countryside that such a fantastic organisation remains. It has given a kick-start to so many rural businesses, providing grants and advice.

"If it doesnt continue, government has to find an effective organisation that will," he insisted.

Speaking about the major issues to face landowners over the next two years, Mr MacNicol singled out the access debate, changes to inheritance and corporation tax, the future of hunting and fishing, the BSE ban, and the reform of MAFF, as areas where the organisation hoped to play key roles.

Anthony Bosanquet, the CLAs new deputy president, said progress over reform of the CAP could be stifled by Germany, France and some others.

But, with EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler determined to implement wide-ranging reform by the start of the World Trade Organisation talks in 1999, Mr Bosanquet was optimistic that steady progress would be made.