New focus for RDP spend outlined by Minister
Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill today said she was committed to targeting investment in key projects to benefit both rural dwellers and businesses.
The Minister was speaking after a meeting with representatives from the Local Action Groups (LAGS), Joint Council Committees (JCCs) and Lead Councils who are implementing Axis 3 of the Rural Development Programme. The purpose of the meeting was to agree ways to direct funds to rural businesses and the rural community more quickly and in a more strategic way.
Afterwards the Minister said: “The Axis 3 element of the Rural Development Programme is designed to improve the quality of life in rural areas. By diverting some of the available funds into strategic projects we will help rural businesses meet the challenges of the 21st century.” She also announced that she wants to contribute to the delivery of high-speed rural Broadband provision both through the Rural Development Programme and by using DARD funds from her Tackling Poverty initiative and delivery of this will be assessed over the next number of months.
The Minister said she was determined that Rural Development spend must be maximised for the benefit of everyone within the rural community. She added: “I am seeking an amendment to the Rural Development Programme to change the grant rates from a maximum of £250,000 now to a maximum of up to £1million. This will enable the LAGs and Councils to work closely with experienced promoters with good strategic projects to get them up and running as soon as possible.”
Minister O’Neill asked the LAGs/Council representatives to continue their good work in delivering for rural areas and asked them to consider how her new focus on spend can be addressed quickly. She concluded: “My aim is to assist rural businesses to maintain and create jobs through this Programme, and to help drive forward these opportunities for growth which exist in the rural community. I also want rural people living and working in the countryside to benefit. By the changes I am announcing today, I am confident that Axis 3 will play an important role in that now and in the future.”
Notes to editors:
1. The NI Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 is jointly funded by the European Union, through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). The Programme aims to protect and enhance our rural environment and contribute to the development of competitive and sustainable rural businesses and thriving rural communities. It is worth over £500million and represents one of the largest ever investments in rural communities in Northern Ireland.
2. Axis 3 amounts to £100million which is dedicated to improving the quality of life in rural areas. This will be achieved by supporting a wide range of projects which include diversification, business creation, tourism, basic services for rural communities, village renewal, conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage.
3. A Local Action Group (LAG) is a combination of public and private partners who use local knowledge to enable a ‘bottom-up’ approach to the delivery of RDP funding in their area. They have come together to identify local needs and priorities for development and produce a strategy to support them. LAGs have a key role in delivering the RDP’s quality-of-life measures. That includes selecting and funding projects that best meet the priorities for their area and support the delivery of their strategy.
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