Hastings, Bexhill and Battle MPs vow to support rural economic growth

MPs have promised to support rural economic growth by delivering a ‘more enabling planning approach’ following a roundtable with local businesses.

Huw Merriman, MP for Battle and Bexhill, and Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings, hosted the event at the Woodland Centre in Flimwell on Friday, June 10.

The meeting heard from representatives of rural industries about the changing needs of the agricultural sector.

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It was attended more than 40 rural businesses, farmers and Rother councillors and officers.

Huw Merriman, MP for Battle and Bexhill, and Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings, hosted the event at the Woodland Centre in Flimwell on Friday, June 10. The meeting heard from representatives of rural industries about the changing needs of the agricultural sector.

They explained the need for diversification to adapt to changing farming practices. Concerns about planning delays were also aired.

Mr Merriman said: “Rural areas like Rother face many economic and social challenges. The UK has an average age of 37, the average age in Rother is 53. A high proportion of residents work on minimum wage; there are now more than 1,800 people on the Rother housing register and house completions are slow.

"Many families are priced out of buying homes in their villages. More than 85 per cent of the land is designated as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Site of Special Scientific Interest which is rightly protected under planning laws. It is therefore really important that we create more out of our rural economy and make more from our land for the entire community.

"I am pleased that the roundtable will deliver a more enabling planning approach from Rother District Council to support our growing rural industries, like vineyards and breweries, as well as helping councillors and planners understand more about the need for rural diversification.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) group secretary, George Ashby, said: “We welcome Rother’s recognition of the enormous potential of agriculture in providing fertile ground on which to cultivate new jobs and deliver clean growth.

"Our diverse farm businesses not only produce traceable and affordable food and drink, they also generate renewable sources of energy and fibre, manage valuable environmental and recreational assets.”

Ms Hart added: “‘Rural small and medium enterprises provide benefits to communities beyond direct employment; they generate wealth with profits being spent locally.

"Keeping pace with change is necessary and preserving our countryside means protecting it from change; we need to conserve it by protecting it by responsible means so that businesses can flourish, providing jobs and opportunity.”