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Second BPS challenge risks payment delays; Mystery lowland farm group sets legal ball rolling.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor

FARMERS across Wales face the prospect of payment delays after lowland producers unveiled a second legal challenge to the Welsh Government's CAP subsidy arrangements. A "pre-action protocol" letter has been submitted to the government by a group of lowland farmers angered by the payments they are set receive under the revised flat-rate scheme.

The letter signals the group's intention to challenge the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) arrangements in Wales - but it does not necessarily mean it will press ahead with legal action.

Some observers doubt a BPS challenge would succeed given how the revised arrangements were devised to be free of legal loopholes.

If the action does proceed, the industry will be pressing for it to be fast-tracked through the courts.

Mid & West Wales AM William Powell said: "I would hope that those pursuing the legal challenge have been well advised and that this matter is dealt with thoroughly and swiftly so that the chance of delays in payments is minimised.

"The effect of any delays would be potentially devastating to farmers across Wales."

In its letter the group claims the decision is unlawful and jeopardises the survival of productive lowland farming in Wales.

It claimed more than 1,300 lowland-based farmers stood to lose up to 60% of their CAP payments by 2019.

The Welsh Government has said it will respond to the letter but a spokesman added: "Given the possibility of legal action it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage." Mystery surrounds the identities of the potential plaintiffs. Both the FUW and NFU Cymru are unaware of the group, said to be based in Monmouthshire having coalesced after informal meetings throughout Wales in the wake of this summer's Royal Welsh Show.

An FUW spokesman said the union was "unaware of the nature of the legal challenge", while NFU Cymru acknowledged the BPS "has been - and continues to be - a deeply contentious issue".

This latest development follows last year's threatened High Court action by hill farmers which forced Cardiff to scrap its original plans and go back to the drawing board.

Earlier this summer deputy farming minister Rebecca Evans unveiled a new flat-rate system with a top-up element.

The arrangement, which she insisted met EU payment criteria, saw the "uphill" movement of EU cash away from the lowlands.

Industry observers believe a legal challenge, if pursued, could only result in a new flat-rate setup as a regional model, similar to Cardiff's original proposals, would rely on an lengthy remapping exercise to avoid repeat legal challenges.

Current projections are for 80% of individual BPS entitlements to be paid during December, and the rest next year.

Last week NFU Cymru pressed Mrs Evans to deliver early payments to help the industry through its current problems, as recently permitted by the EC.

Previously the deputy minister had ruled out this option and any legal action would appear to make this even more unlikely.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Sep 24, 2015
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