Two countryside pressure groups are sending a strong message to prospective parliamentary candidates in rural seats in Cumbria.

Friends of the Lake District and the Cumbria branch of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have set out their stall appealing to all political parties to unite in developing a healthier landscape for the county.

The CLA, says Cumbria branch chairman Mark Southern, has set out five priorities that it says the next government should take on board to ensure rural Cumbria thrives:

  • more affordable housing in the countryside
  • an end to the digital divide for rural communities
  • a Brexit that works for farming
  • a simpler, more cost-effective planning system
  • a tax regime that does not discriminate against businesses

Mr Southern says despite earlier promises to address key issues in the county, many still remain unresolved.

“These are particularly relating to decent and acceptable rural broadband access and speeds, in addition to mobile coverage.

“Both of these are essential to the rural economy, especially to farmers and the tourism industry.”

Mark Southern Mr Southern, who farms near Ulverston, also called for Lake District National Park Authority and neighbouring district councils to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ when it came to opening the door for local people to be able to buy or rent in the National Park.

“Local people have to compete against second home owners and retirees, all of whom distort the market, particularly within the National Park. The Park Authority will also have to be careful not to add additional layers of planning bureaucracy if World Heritage Status is achieved for the park,” said Mr Southern.

There is a huge opportunity to create a progressive and pioneering policy for UK food production and farming, said Mr Southern. But, he added, it must recognise the importance that hill farmers and traditional family farms add to the landscape and rural economy.

“I would ask everyone who wants to see a living, working countryside to challenge candidates to demonstrate how they intend to make a real commitment to farming and the countryside if elected,” he said.

The CLA represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses.

Friends of the Lake District’s three main goals are better environmental policies, prosperous rural communities and increased funding for the countryside.

“Brexit will dominate the debate, but our politicians must appreciate how this threatens the very future of the uplands as we now know them,” said the group.

They added that the countryside has never been ‘more vulnerable’ to outside forces such as climate change, flooding, insensitive agricultural policy and poorly planned infrastructure development’.

“Protecting and enriching the landscapes of Cumbria is vital to our future and that of future generations.”

“We need a ‘cultural revolution’ that recognises the role of land managers and pays them for the provision of the natural capital that their work delivers. But we also need other rural enterprises, fitting together, to maintain balanced and prosperous landscapes and communities,” said the group’s manifesto.

Sir Martin Holdgate, Friends of the Lake District president, said: “Our Cumbrian landscapes are a priceless natural and cultural heritage which enrich us all. But they need continuing care.”

This demands action by Government, says the group’s manifesto, to secure a confident future for the rural economy by bringing forward the 25 Year Environmental and Agriculture Plans.

What issues would you like to see politicians address? What are the key issues for you ahead of the June 8 General Election? Tell us