Chairman’s Blog: Brexit Must Deliver for Rural Yorkshire

Our Chairman Barry Dodd CBE blogs about the importance of ensuring Brexit delivers for rural Yorkshire.

moors1“As a region with two national parks, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the wonderful Yorkshire Coastline, our natural assets and rural economy are incredibly important.

Many of our great businesses are here because of the quality of life, yet rural areas face real challenges. Productivity and wages in tourism and on many farms are low, and whereas some large lowland farms are thriving, small upland farms are becoming more and more marginal.

Brexit, whether you support it or not, presents a real challenge. The Common Agricultural Policy and farm payments have many critics. Governments of all persuasions have sought to reduce its scale and market distorting subsidies. But to marginal farms this income allows them to continue. Do we watch these businesses fail while also knowing it negatively impacts on much wider industries? Or do we try to protect them?

We have a world class tourism industry across our patch, underpinned by the environment – largely maintained by these marginal farms. What would be the impact on tourism, our towns, communities and the rural economy if the land was left un-managed?

The alternative is to support them, albeit whilst ensuring they invest in the right way, positively impacting the environment and productivity.

Brexit must be seen as an opportunity, a chance to improve the way we do things and to develop a new investment model with better outcomes, higher productivity and greater environmental benefits.

Marginal farms must be sustainable, but the only justifiable way to attract government investment will be if we deliver the outcomes that government wants. Right now, government doesn’t need problems, they need solutions and we must be a region that helps government shape the future.

As a Local Enterprise Partnership we already work closely with government and we have a reputation for delivering on our promises. We intend to build on this, working with key local stakeholders such as the National Farmers Union, Country Landowners Association, Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Tenant Farmers Association, making the case for rural investment.

But the importance runs much wider still. Proximity to high quality rural areas is critical to the success of our cities, by making them a desirable place to locate – and also to protect our urban centres from increased flooding. We call on all Yorkshire to back our plans for a sustainable rural investment plan.­­­­­­­­­

Improving Farm to Fork supply chain productivity
Food security is a major challenge for the UK, and there will be real pressure on government to allow access to the UK market from cheap imports as trade deals are negotiated around the world. But against that consumers are increasingly aware of the provenance of the food they eat. We should incentivise local supply chains linking farmers with food processors and the end consumer. This will reduce food miles, increase consumer confidence in the food they eat and develop more resilient UK food security.

Increasing the value of our environmental asset
Tourism is a major industry here, employing thousands of people and pivotal to the success of many of our market towns. The Tour de France was spectacular because of the breadth and quality of places it passed, whilst the Yorkshire Coast has become second only to London for UK visitors. These people visit because of the quality of our coastal areas, moorlands and natural environment. We need to support investment in farming methods that deliver productivity gains whilst protecting and enhancing natural habitats and making them accessible to more people. If we achieve that we will attract more visitors delivering growth and investment into our rural towns and villages.

Upstream investment to reduce urban flooding
We are all aware of the devastating effect flooding can have on businesses and communities. The solution cannot be just to build more defences. We need a balanced approach, investing in defences, but also looking at the catchment areas where the water comes from and investing upstream – enabling the natural habitat to soak up more rainfall with less flowing into our towns and cities. This wider catchment area approach should be a cornerstone of flood defences, delivering real productivity gains to the businesses in urban areas which suffer when rivers flood.

Investing in this way will demonstrate the real economic value of our rural areas. Government has announced it is developing a comprehensive industrial strategy. For rural areas such as ours and many others across the country, if an industrial strategy is going to be comprehensive, it must understand that value of the natural assets in rural areas.

Linking these investments alongside major commercial opportunities that arise from natural assets, such as offshore wind and potash will ensure our world class rural areas are truly valued as economic assets that drive the economy.

We encourage all of Yorkshire, both urban and rural to support our plans to ensure Brexit delivers a sustainable rural investment plan which makes stunning rural assets accessible to all; protects our towns and cities from flooding and delivers high quality locally sourced food.

Do show your support by emailing us at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you.”