GE24: Farming for Britain’s communities

17 June 2024

The role that our agricultural sector plays in our rural communities must never be overlooked. Our general election manifesto – Farming for Britain’s Future – calls on the next government to help create thriving rural communities, providing jobs and supporting rural businesses.

Often, rural communities seem to almost be an afterthought when it comes to policy and regulation.

We are calling for coherent policies that enable rural areas to make a full contribution to the nation’s economic and social health and wellbeing.

Thriving farming and growing businesses are at the heart of many rural communities, providing local food, flowers, fibre and fuel, supporting local supply chains, providing jobs and enabling people to live and work in the countryside and use local services.

Planning

But too often the planning system acts to make the rural economy less sustainable – preventing farm modernisation, diversification and home building for farm workers.

In some cases, blanket environmental requirements mean that development is refused: a perverse outcome when development would make a farm business more sustainable, reduce its environmental footprint, create jobs, and promote green growth across the sector. A sympathetic and symbiotic relationship is crucial.


What the public think

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71% say that rural crime should be treated more seriously by the police. 

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86% say farmers are very important to the future of rural communities.


If farm businesses are allowed to build the right buildings, and do it in a way that is sympathetic to the local environment, they can reduce the impacts of production and help even more to achieve our collective goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Newer glasshouses could help us to produce more of our own fruit and veg, boosting the nation’s food security and helping people to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

The NFU has consistently advocated for changes to the National Planning Policy Framework to better reflect a planning system that works for farming, with the inclusion of a weighted argument to support farming in the system.

We need a stable regulatory environment that manages risk while providing suitable incentives and sufficient freedom for farmers and growers to invest in their businesses. By creating the right policy environment, we can make the UK the go-to place for investment in agriculture and food production and a natural home for food processing companies, creating more employment opportunities and further boosting our rural communities and economies.



Infrastructure projects

More also needs to be done to mitigate the huge impact the construction of major infrastructure projects has on farm businesses.

Currently, major projects like HS2, electricity powerlines and underground cables can take land and rights by compulsory purchase.

Farmers need collaborative negotiations. For example, better located bridges, crossings and fences could all help to reduce the impact on the businesses concerned so that viable food producing businesses are not forced to close.

Digital connectivity

Poor broadband and mobile connectivity has a huge impact on rural areas.

Reliable coverage and connections will benefit farm businesses, food production, and the wider rural economy.

Increasing the potential of people being able to run other successful businesses in rural areas will attract more people to live and work there.

A high standard of rural connectivity is essential to take full advantage of new technologies and help build resilience and sustainability into businesses.

Poor digital connectivity makes farmers and growers wary of making capital investment, which can hinder their business development and have negative knock-on impacts for others in the local supply chain and the wider rural economy.

Public transport

Rural businesses also need to be able to attract and retain the workforce they need. Ensuring rural areas receive a fair deal when it comes to things like public transport, and access to vital amenities and services like medical provision, will help open up rural areas for business with all the attendant social and economic benefits that will bring.

Rural crime

Rural crime must also be treated as a priority issue. Farms, and wider rural communities, have increasingly become targets for criminals and this has left people living in the countryside feeling more vulnerable.

Crimes like hare coursing, fly-tipping on farmland, dog attacks on livestock, and theft of large and small machinery have significant knock-on effects on businesses that often feel isolated and forgotten.


NFU asks

1. LABOUR: A minimum five-year rolling seasonal worker scheme, with suitable length visas, no wage differential from the National Living Wage or unrealistic cap on worker numbers, and implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain.

2. COUNTRYSIDE ACCESS: Responsible management of public access to the countryside so it can be enjoyed by everyone, while recognising that much of it is an active working environment.

3. INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT: Where major infrastructure projects have the potential to disrupt and damage farmland and farm businesses, ensure steps are taken so farms can keep operating profitably and are properly and promptly compensated for any land taken and damage caused.

4. PLANNING: Make changes to the planning system to ensure permitted development for infrastructure including glasshouses, reservoirs and slurry stores for the purposes of growing and processing fruit, vegetables, crops and livestock.

5. RURAL CRIME: A consistent and coordinated response to rural crime across government and police forces, including fair funding for rural policing, a dedicated rural crime team in every police force in the country and the formation of a cross-departmental rural crime task force to address the failures in dealing with rural crime.

6. More funding for rural mental health, with Treasury, Department for Health and Social Care, Defra and NHS England to review current emergency funding mechanisms, establish a dedicated rural mental health funding stream, and include rural mental health on the curriculum of agricultural colleges.

7.   Implement the recommendations of the Rock Review into agricultural tenancies, to support the long- term resilience of a tenanted sector delivering on food production and environmental goals.

To see our asks in more detail, visit: Farming for Britain's Future: our election manifesto


This page was first published on 03 June 2024. It was updated on 17 June 2024.