THE chairman of the Hampshire branch of the CLA has said securing countywide fast, reliable broadband and mobile phone coverage must be at the top of the agenda for 2019.

David Butler has said connectivity and technology will play a crucial role in ensuring Hampshire’s rural economy remains vibrant.

Mr Butler, who runs a 1,200-acre arable farm at Crawley near Winchester, said: “Rural areas in Hampshire 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.”

To this end the CLA has been running its ‘#4GForAll’ initiative to highlight the issue that rural communities face.

Mr Butler, who as branch chairman represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses across the county, added: “This should provide a welcome boost, but broadband speeds still vary wildly across Hampshire.

“Government talk of 5G rollout seems ludicrous when vast areas are still struggling to get any coverage, let alone 4G. It is important to walk before running, so the focus must remain on establishing universal 4G before upgrading areas to 5G.”

CLA South East regional director Robin Edwards said it will be hard for Brexit not to dominate the agenda in 2019, with farming and rural businesses facing many challenges as well as new opportunities.

He added: “Undoubtedly all eyes will be on Brexit, 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 in Hampshire.”