Rural Growth Networks

A £15m pilot project to boost the rural economy has opened for applications.

The government plans to establish six Rural Growth Networks to support countryside businesses and bolster the rural economy.

The creation of the networks aims to help rural areas overcome barriers to growth, as outlined in Defra’s rural economy growth review.

Barriers include a lack of suitable premises and poor provision of infrastructure, such as superfast broadband and mobile networks.

The government is investing around £15m in the pilots, including up to £2.3m to support rural enterprises led by women.

Network businesses will enjoy preferential status when applying for grants from Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon launched the project on Thursday (29 December).

Businesses in the networks would find it easier to obtain financial aid to help make themselves more competitive, he said.

“Rural businesses face particular challenges – a lack of business premises, slow internet connection and fragmented business networks are some of them.

“The Rural Growth Networks will help to tackle these problems so that more rural business can start up and grow, giving a boost to local communities and unlocking the economic potential of rural areas.”

Rural Growth Networks will typically consist of a small number of sites or ‘enterprise hubs’ in rural locations.

Typical sites include underused business parks, brownfield sites or sites with outline planning permission for commercial or industrial development.

It is expected that each hub will be suitable for between ten and twenty micro businesses or small enterprises.

Enterprise hubs could be generic or focus on a particular sector.

They might, for example, focus on local food, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, IT, creative/media industries or leisure businesses.

Defra anticipates that each pilot scheme will be run in cooperation with a council or Local Enterprise Partnership.

These partners will supply business advice and provide workplaces and infrastructure to rural businesses.

Applicants will also need permission from their council to make improvements to their premises.

Applications will be considered on a competitive basis.

Defra will announce the six successful schemes that will each deliver a Rural Growth Network in March 2012.

For details, visit the Rural Economy and Business page of the Defra website.

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