by Stuart Agnew, MEP13th December 2015
It was announced recently that farmers who wished to participate in the new Countryside Stewardship agreements that commence in January 2016 will be required to display a poster or plaque or billboard in a place that can be readily be seen by the passing public. This signage must publicise receipt of EU funding. The greater the funding, the larger the sign. It does not seem a coincidence that this new ruling for farmers to erect EU propaganda posters just happens to coincide with a referendum campaign on EU membership.
In very round terms British taxpayers send about £5.5 billion to fund the CAP each year. Only half of this comes back to British farms, with the remainder benefiting rural development projects in Member States that are 'net recipients' of the EU budget, which include all Southern and Eastern Countries.
We should really expect recipients of CAP funds in these countries to erect gratitude plaques thanking the UK taxpayer!
The vast majority of farmers are involved in some sort of stewardship scheme and have had to merely apply and then obey the rules. From 2016, it will not be automatic and there will be an element of competition for the £185 million available. It can be assumed that this element of doubt, added to the fact that record keeping is expected to be very onerous, has deterred a proportion of farmers from applying to enter the new scheme. Nevertheless, 40,000 farmers could get involved and between them would be obliged to erect a minimum of 40,000 unsightly plaques, some of which will be in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It does seem an extraordinary irony that the outcome of an aesthetic gesture is visual pollution.
If a UK farmer partakes in the new Countryside Stewardship Agreement and receives more than £7765 over the five years of the scheme he will be obliged to erect a plaque. This threshold would therefore include most applicants.
A coloured poster or plaque itself would be probably no more than £20 (assuming someone has gone into production with a generic template, if not it could be a great deal more). However a superstructure would be required to support the sign which must survive the elements for five years. If labour is costed in then this might be £50 or significantly more for a “bill board”. The real worry is the risk of weathering, damage and defacement, because if an inspector calls and cannot find the sign, a fine will be levied. The likelihood of these negative events is increased by virtue of the fact that the signs must be placed where they can readily be seen by the public.
There is a further twist to this affair and that is planning consent. At the time of writing it appears that an EU propaganda poster will not comply with Schedule 3, part 3E of the Regulations, because is not relating to a demonstration of an agricultural method. Neither would the sign be covered by Class 5 of the Regulations which would allow it to appear on business premises. This would normally be taken to mean a building.
If it was described truthfully as a Political Election poster it could only be displayed during an official 'campaign'. We do not know when the official campaign will either start or finish.
On the face of it then, this means the cost of a planning application at over £100 and also the possibility of countryside activist groups such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England lobbying fiercely to refuse consent.
Even if all ultimately goes well, the time that has elapsed may delay the start of the scheme by a year.
As a farmer and UKIP MEP I face a dilemma about erecting EU propaganda on my farm. If I do get involved then there will be a second sign alongside the first 'clarifying' various aspects of the role the EU has played on my farm.
Stuart Agnew MEP