24 August 2001

Removing red tape vital for rural regeneration – CLA

By Robert Harris

THE government must introduce measures to boost rural regeneration quickly or many farm businesses will fail, says the Country Land and Business Association.

Launching a hard-hitting report* which urges ministers to cut bureaucracy and encourage diversification on farms, CLA chief executive Mark Pendlington said: "The strain on many businesses is at breaking point and the need to open avenues to recovery has never been greater.

"For individual farm businesses, action to help them recover and re-establish themselves is needed now. This report contains practical proposals that the government and authorities can take to remove obstacles to enterprise and actively encourage regeneration."

The report – compiled by the CLAs diversification working party established following the foot-and-mouth outbreak – has already landed on the desks of DEFRA ministers and Lord Haskins, the Labour peer asked by Tony Blair to rejuvenate rural areas hit by F&M.

It lays a large amount of blame on the planning system for obstructing progress. Although planning guidelines relating to farm diversification and rural areas have been relaxed, local interpretation remains a concern.

The report calls for a "wide ranging" revision of the planning system, including a presumption in favour of development where possible. It adds that the exclusion of agricultural buildings and farmsteads as brownfield sites (favoured by the government for development) is a significant barrier to diversification.

It also criticises funding mechanisms as "bureaucratic and slow", with small businesses and individual farmers facing particular difficulties. "Grant procedures should be simplified and guidance made clearer," the report concludes.

Although some changes to the rating system favour diversification, including the new Rating Act 2001 (Business, Aug 17), the loss of agricultural exemption to rates remains a considerable disincentive to diversification, says the report.

It also calls on the Inland Rev-enue to treat rural businesses as one trading unit for tax purposes, maintaining agricultural reliefs which may be lost through diversification.

The report proposes amendments to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, recently published by the government as a consultation paper to remove anomalies and improve the framework, be implemented as soon as possible.

Better advice, marketing and promotion of tourism activities, more incentives to boost energy crop production and more help for food processing and marketing are also needed.

"There are a number of issues that must be addressed, including a clear code of practice for trading with multiples, review of food regulations and the impact of imported food not subject to similar food safety regulation."

*Rural Regeneration: A Policy Framework for Business Diversification. Free copies will be available from the CLA (020-7460 7934) from next week. &#42

CLAPROPOSALS

&#8226 More positive planning framework.

&#8226 Simpler grant procedures.

&#8226 Single tax regime.

&#8226 Energy crop incentives.

&#8226 Review of food processing and marketing issues.