He will be running the Association from a new office in Presteigne and feels it will be a significant year for the CLA in Wales as well as for the countryside and the rural economy. Ben comes to Wales from CLA South East where he was assistant regional director and also has a strong conservation background.
New CLA Wales Director, Ben Underwood
He says:"This will be the year in which most of the big decisions on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy are made. We need a policy that will promote and protect the ability of Welsh farmers, over the long term.
"It needs to allow farmers to be profitable and therefore sustainable while protecting our food security. We are particularly concerned about the definition of ‘active farmer’ within the proposals.
"However, this must not be at the expense of the environment and we may need to find new ways of farming and creating incentives for farmers to provide more positive land management, that the public are willing to support. It is essential that our own Government recognises the importance of engaging with the mainstream EU debate and arguing for sufficient funding to pay for what is needed.
"The New Year will also bring the Welsh Assembly Government elections and we will be working hard to ensure that our key concerns are right at the forefront of the politicians’ agenda. We continue to ask for major reforms to the planning system.
"The Welsh Assembly Government has recognised the importance of providing accommodation on the family farm, but we do need progress on Affordable Rural Housing and propose that cross subsidy could be part of the answer.
"We’re also keen to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to get Glastir right during the review period. A take-up of nearly 3,000 applicants was a reasonable result for what is effectively ‘the only show in town’ post CAP reform in 2013.
"It has to be set in the context of the fact that there are currently only 6,000 farmers participating in agri-environmental schemes in Wales. CLA Wales has always supported the principle of Glastir and promoted the need for constant review in the first couple of years."
Ben also acknowledged that broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas had improved in the last year, but says it is still not good enough. The Government should introduce a Universal Service Obligation requiring broadband service providers to supply speeds of two megabits per second to every door by 2015. OFCOM and the mobile phone service operators should do more to ensure full coverage in rural areas.
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