DEFRA pledges £680m to rural development

DEFRA has promised rural communities in England improved internet speeds, less red tape and greater access to public services over the next three years.

In its Rural statement, DEFRA has reaffirmed its commitments to rural engagement, quality of life and economic growth.

Pledges include a £530 million investment aiming to provide broadband internet to all premises with a target of supplying at least 90% of premises in each county with superfast broadband. A further £150 million will be used to boost mobile coverage which “could yield important benefits for rural areas.”

To help the rural economy DEFRA wants to create five ‘Rural Growth Networks’ across the country which will allow businesses to achieve their full potential by breaking down barriers to growth such as fragmented business networks and a shortage of work premises.

The new environment secretary Owen Paterson said “Rural economic growth is vital for this country. Businesses should be free from the unnecessary Government red tape that has got in the way of rural economic growth in the past.”

The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) President Harry Cotterell welcomed the focus on economic growth and long-term sustainability.

However, he criticised the lack any fresh ideas and said that the statement does not announce any new measures on the deficit in rural broadband access and mobile connectivity.

The NFU has also welcomed the statement to strengthen business but Deputy President Meurig Raymond said that he will reserve judgement until words are transformed into action.

“The Government’s commitment to freeing rural businesses from the unnecessary Government control that has got in the way of rural economic growth in the past is very welcome though we now need to see action matching the rhetoric.”

Mr Raymond added that the Government’s investment in broadband was unlikely to be enough to meet its targets to include 100% of rural businesses by 2015. He said that covering two-thirds of the rural population was achievable but the most remote rural areas will pose a major challenge to having all rural business broadband connected.

For more on this topic

Read about the new DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson

See our rural broadband page