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Government Launches New Support for Rural Communities

rural levelling up

In a document titled “unleashing rural opportunity” numerous Government departments have come together to unveil plans to support communities and businesses in remote areas. A key part of this plan is to enable them to benefit from better access to wireless networks.

This strategy is part of the Government’s wider drive to grow the rural economy. The publication will be formally unveiled at the Future Countryside Conference by Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey.

The outline

The plans concern the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, along with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Transport.

Rural areas already contribute 15% to England’s economy, equivalent to over £250 billion of the national GDP. However, this program aims to unlock further growth in these regions by focusing on on housing, communities and connectivity. It seeks to create jobs and drive economic development, including expanding internet access and increasing housing availability in rural communities.

The plan includes the following key initiatives to revitalise rural areas by addressing various aspects of their development and connectivity:

  1. Consult on measures to improve internet access for remote communities through fixed wireless and satellite services.
  2. Enhance local transportation networks with the Future of Transport Rural Strategy, improving access to services, combating isolation, and increasing job opportunities in rural and remote areas. Grant funding reforms for bus operators will be considered to maintain affordable fares and reliable services.
  3. Develop a new public libraries strategy in England, recognizing their role as community hubs and providers of digital connectivity in rural areas.
  4. Review how deprivation is measured in rural regions to ensure better representation of rural communities’ interests in decision-making processes.
  5. Introduce legislation to increase penalties for fly-tipping and littering, exploring the possibility of ringfencing fines for further anti-fly-tipping efforts.
  6. Continue the progress of improving broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas through Project Gigabit, with plans to finalize regional contracts in England by the end of 2024.
  7. Support electricity infrastructure in rural areas to meet evolving consumer needs, such as enabling electrification of heating and electric vehicle charging.
  8. Consult on planning changes to make agricultural development more flexible for farmers, allowing easier modifications to existing agricultural buildings to enhance productivity.

Levelling up the digital playing field

The Government claims that huge improvements have been made over the last decade to support connectivity in rural areas. According to their statistics, over 75% of UK premises can now access gigabit-capable broadband, up from 6% at the beginning of 2019, and over 730,000 premises have already been upgraded in hard-to-reach rural areas as part of a £5 billion Project Gigabit investment.

As part of the plan to unleash rural communities, a £7 million fund has been established to explore innovative approaches in combining satellite, wireless, and fixed-line internet connectivity. This fund aims to not only assist rural businesses in trial regions but also enhance their utilisation of new agricultural technologies. For example, improved connectivity seeks to enable the use of drone technology for real-time monitoring of crops and livestock. It is also aimed at supporting landscape and wildlife conservation efforts and facilitate the development of interactive experiences for tourist.

In addition to the fund, the Government has pledged to enhance broadband services through satellite connectivity for up to 35,000 homes and businesses in the most secluded parts of the UK. This commitment involves an £8 million grant scheme, which seeks to provide a broadband connection up to ten times faster than the current available options.

Responses

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Asserted “I have pledged to build a better future for people in this country, and our rural communities are right at the heart of that promise. That’s why I’m determined to make sure that their interests are front and centre of all our work to grow the economy and strengthen our communities – so that every part of our country gets the support it needs to thrive.”

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said “The countryside makes up over 90% of the UK’s land mass, it is home to millions of people, and contributes over £250 billion to our economy in England alone. Rural areas are rich in human and natural potential with strong communities and entrepreneurial businesses”.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, Michael Gove said “We want more local people to reap the rewards of homeownership while maintaining the special character of our beautiful landscapes. We will be unlocking a new pipeline of rural housing as we continue to reform our planning system and offering greater freedoms on farm buildings to support a new supply of affordable homes and businesses”.

Outside of the Government, English Rural, a non-profit specialist provider of affordable rural homes and a leading advocate on rural housing issues, welcomed the plans.

Final thought

The plans demonstrate a commitment to unleashing the potential that rural areas hold and supporting local people to build sustainable futures. As part of the levelling up agenda, it is crucial that those in rural communities are placed on more equal footing with areas that are more privileged.

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

Curia is holding the Levelling Up Commission this year, seeking to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and find pragmatic solutions to regional disparities across the UK.

Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:

  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing and Homelessness
  • Education, Skills and Training
  • Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

To hear thought leaders discuss levelling up in health and social care, signup to the Commission first inquiry session here.

If you are interested in working with the Levelling Up Commission, please reach out to our policy lead Shivani Sen at shivani.sen@chamberuk.com

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