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New grants to boost rural economy

TOURISM, agri-food, forestry and renewable energy are among the areas targeted in a new rural grant scheme.

The rural economy grants are due to be launched by Defra by the end of February.

They are part of the government's promised package of measures following the publication last year of the Rural Economy Growth Review.

Although full details are yet to be announced, it appears there will be several different measures.

These are likely to include using £100m of Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) funding to help rural businesses and a £25m package to support rural tourism, said James Fulton, of rural business consultants Berrys.

"Other measures and areas of funding will include support to boost farm competitiveness, agri-food, rural tourism, forestry, renewable energy and training. The Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme will also continue."

Although the grants have not yet been launched, Defra is putting together 'pipelines' of potential projects.

Northamptonshire-based Berrys is among the consultants Defra has asked to submit details of any potential projects.

"As funding is likely to be quite tight it is important to get ideas in quickly," said Mr Fulton.

Once the scheme is officially launched, Defra will be asking for potential applicants to send in expressions of interest.

A shortlist will then be drawn up of projects which Defra feels merit a full application.

Mr Fulton said: "It is important that the expression of interest provides all the information required and promotes the project."

In addition to the funding, the government is also consulting on plans that would make it easier to change the use of rural buildings for business uses.

Defra is also looking at reducing some regulation on farms.


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