Coastal access, connectivity & Brexit to dominate Island’s rural economy

The new Chairman of the Isle of Wight branch of the CLA says coastal access, connectivity and Brexit will dominate the agenda for the Island’s rural economy in 2019.

With Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union in March set to be the focus of national and international attention, Laurence Taylor – who took on one of the most important rural roles on the island in November – has given his thoughts on the 12 months ahead from a more local perspective.

Mr Taylor, who manages his family’s farm and rural property business in Bembridge, said: “Rural areas on the island cannot reach their full economic potential without fast, reliable broadband and mobile phone coverage.

“Even as we enter 2019 some rural businesses are forced to accept poor speeds and coverage, and end up paying for a service they don’t get.”

The CLA has been running its ‘#4GForAll’ initiative to highlight the issue. It has also been working with Openreach to help close the digital divide through a newly negotiated fixed-line broadband wayleave agreement and Memorandum of Understanding between Openreach, the CLA and NFU. It is designed to make it easier for Openreach to reach agreement with landowners over locations and payment rates for cables and other electronic communications apparatus.

Mr Taylor, who as Chairman represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses across the island, said: “This should provide a welcome boost, but speeds still vary wildly. Government talk of 5G rollout seems ludicrous when vast areas are still struggling with 4G.

“It is vitally important that the focus must remain on establishing universal 4G before upgrading areas to 5G.”

Coastal access is also likely to make its way into the headlines again. Last year Natural England began investigating how to improve access along a 101km stretch of the Isle of Wight coast, stating new access was expected to be ready in 2019.

However, plans to publish a proposal report in winter 2018 have been delayed. Mr Taylor said: “Natural England is now saying the timeline for the Isle of Wight stretch of the England coast path has been pushed back.

“It now expects to publish a final report to the Secretary of State by May 2019, but it is vital that it properly consults directly with landowners and listens to feedback.”

Mr Taylor, who has been a member of the CLA Isle of Wight branch since 2015, said it will be hard for Brexit not to dominate the agenda in 2019.

He added: “Farming and rural businesses are facing perhaps the greatest period of uncertainty they have faced for a generation.

“In my new role as Chairman of the CLA’s Isle of Wight branch, I hope to be able to help support the island membership through a period which will undoubtedly present many challenges, but hopefully new opportunities as well, and to be an advocate for their concerns.”

CLA South East Regional Director Robin Edwards said: “All eyes will be on Brexit in 2019, and we are working hard to stand up for the rural economy during this crucial period.

“From funding to labour supply, businesses need certainty and assurances to operate and plan for the future.

“But while many questions remain unanswered as we go into 2019, we remain optimistic that our vibrant and innovative sector will continue to be the lifeblood of communities on the island.”