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Brexit, crime, connectivity and housing are East Anglia’s key concerns for 2019, says rural business leader

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). Picture: Gareth Rees-Roberts

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). Picture: Gareth Rees-Roberts

gareth rees-roberts

Brexit, rural crime, housing and digital connectivity will be East Anglia’s key countryside challenges in 2019, said a regional landowners’ leader.

Ben Underwood, director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the East of England, said farming and rural businesses are facing “perhaps the greatest period of uncertainty they have faced for a generation” as the new year approaches.

But although Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union in March would dominate the 2019 agenda, he said there are also plenty of other issues affecting rural businesses.

“All eyes will be on Brexit in 2019, and we are working hard to stand up for the rural economy during this crucial period,” he said.

“From funding to labour supply, businesses in our region need certainty and assurances to operate and plan for the future. They cannot do this with the current political cloud of confusion and we will be speaking up for our sector and seeking clarity in the next 12 months.

“The bedrock of success for Brexit must include a profitable and thriving farming and food industry, critically backed by a sufficiently robust long term budget.”

Beyond Brexit, Mr Underwood said the perennial East Anglian issue of poor broadband and mobile connectivity would continue to be a priority in the coming year.

“Rural areas in the East of England cannot reach their full economic potential without fast, reliable broadband and mobile phone coverage,” he said. “Even as we enter 2019 some rural businesses are forced to accept poor speeds and coverage and 4G access varies wildly across our region.

“Government talk of 5G rollout seems ludicrous when vast areas are still struggling with 4G. It is important to walk before running, so the focus must remain on establishing universal 4G before upgrading areas to 5G.

“The rural housing crisis must also be addressed in the coming year. Many planning authorities are restricting responsible development and writing off villages as unsustainable based on outdated criteria. There must be greater flexibility in the planning process to support appropriate levels of development that are in keeping with rural communities and will help them to thrive.”

Mr Underwood said tackling rural crime is also a “constant concern” for the CLA and its members next year

“We appreciate that police have a range of significant pressures but we want to ensure that tackling rural crime such as fly-tipping, hare coursing and machinery theft remains a top priority,” he said.