UKIP Wales Debate: Brexit and Rural Communities

Jul 19, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 19 July 2017

17:05:31

Spoken Contribution – 17:05:31
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

We’re bringing this debate today because we are interested—as, I expect, are all Members—in reviving the rural economy. We have related today’s motion to the subject of Brexit, not to needlessly cause a commotion in the Chamber on the last day of term, but rather to look at the opportunities that might flow from Brexit. Now, I know that we have had a few minor disagreements in this place over the pros and cons of Brexit, and we are still having a certain amount of cordial discussion here over what precise form Brexit will or should take. Well, I don’t want to go into the form of Brexit too much as that is, I feel, a debate we had yesterday—as Simon Thomas alluded to—to some extent, and one that we will probably resume once we get back here after the recess in September—and the debate will probably be going on for some time after that. What we perhaps can agree on is that some kind of Brexit is going to happen, so we need to think about what opportunities Brexit might offer us and how some of those opportunities can aid the rural community.

In addition to opportunities flowing from Brexit, there are also levers that already lie within the legal competence of the Assembly that can be used to help the rural economy. Also, there are powers that have recently flowed into, or are about to flow into, the Assembly due to tax raising competence. All of the parties that were represented in the Chamber in the fourth Assembly wanted the tax powers, so now is the time for us to think constructively about how to use them in terms of the rural economy.

One crucial element in all this is housing. I think if we want to retain rural settlements in their current form, we need to act decisively and precisely here. What we don’t particularly need is for rural settlements to lose their character by becoming mere dormitory towns for larger towns and cities; this is not a future we want to promote for them. We therefore need to be wary about unsympathetic large-scale housing developments, and about building on the green belt. Of course, we need rural housing, but it needs to be developed in a sympathetic way and in accordance with the wishes of the local population. With major developments, we think that local people should be meaningfully consulted. If there is a controversial development, then there should be scope for a legally binding local referendum. This means that, if there are enough signatories, a community could have a vote on a development, and the relevant planning authority would be legally obliged to take note and act accordingly. With such legally binding local referenda, the concept of localism would take some kind of meaningful form. There should also be an enhanced role for town and community councils in the planning process.

The other side of the coin is that we also need to stimulate building if the building plan has local consent. And we know that new measures, new levers, are available to the Assembly in the sphere of house building. One of the problems inhibiting house building is the problem of land banking. This is the process whereby a handful of major national property development companies build up land assets, acquire planning permission to build houses, and then simply sit on them, rather than actually building anything. But with the new tax powers available, land banking can be tackled by bringing in a series of charges: a system of land tax on land where planning permission has already been given, but where no houses have been built. This could begin after, say, three years, and then rise year on year until the first shovel cuts into the turf. Finance Minister Mark Drakeford has already hinted at action in this direction, and we in UKIP feel that we should be moving in this direction and the Welsh Government should be empowered to take this forward. In this instance, the powers are coming to the Assembly from Westminster in the form of tax raising competence. Other powers may devolve as a result of Brexit.

For instance, once we are out of the EU, we will no longer be governed by the EU’s procurement rules. Procurement is another lever that can be used to drive economic development. Public sector bodies in Wales must be encouraged, by statute if necessary, to award public sector contracts to local companies. This might entail making the tendering process easier. We need to look at the rules and regulations post Brexit and ensure that some irrelevant regulations are ditched so that smaller firms, which tend to proliferate in rural areas, are allowed to tender for contracts. It might be that we need to bring in clauses so that a certain number of public sector contracts are allocated to Welsh firms, particularly to Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises. This is another tool that might be used to aid the rural economy.

In the rural high street we need to encourage concepts like co-location, so that shops, pubs and, perhaps, post offices can all reside in the same place. We can also use powers over business rates to help rural businesses.

Post-Brexit fisheries policies could help to revive formerly thriving Welsh fishing ports. We have touched on that earlier, and I think this is an issue that possibly needs a debate of its own when we come back next September, but there are certainly opportunities there.

Another crucial factor is the availability of broadband in rural areas. We note that the Welsh Government has consistently missed its targets on the provision of superfast broadband in rural areas, so more needs to be done there.

Spoken Contribution – 17:11:03
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Yes, certainly. All in all, there could be a more promising future for the Welsh rural economy, if only we see the coming years as a period that could bring with it some upheaval, certainly, but also a large element of opportunity. Thank you.