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Unleashing Rural Opportunity

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 6 June 2023

Growing the economy is one of our Government’s five priorities. Growing the rural economy is key to that, and to continuing to make our countryside a vibrant and thriving place where people want to live and work. The countryside is rich in human and natural potential, with strong communities and entrepreneurial businesses. Recent experience during the pandemic has shown beyond doubt that rural communities and businesses are adaptable, resilient, and full of energy and drive. We recognise, though, that rural communities can face challenges, including those connected with sparsity and distance from key facilities. We want to go further in unleashing the inherent potential that exists and supporting people living and working in the countryside to have a prosperous, sustainable future.

That is why we are launching “Unleashing Rural Opportunity”, in which we set out four broad priorities that are key to rural communities being able to thrive; set out new initiatives; and consider what we are already delivering to make this happen. The Prime Minister also chaired a discussion on delivering for rural areas at Cabinet this morning.

Connectivity: We will continue to deliver gigabit broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas and increase access to public transport. New measures announced today include providing £7 million to test new ways of bringing together satellite, wireless and fixed line internet connectivity in remote areas across the UK. This will help support farmers and tourism businesses in those areas to access lightning-fast, reliable connectivity for the first time, and will help rural businesses in trial areas to make the most of new technologies. We are also today announcing the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) as our rural connectivity champion, to drive innovation and investment in advanced wireless technologies in rural areas across the UK.

Growing the rural economy: We will support rural areas so they can prosper, in line with the Prime Minister’s key priorities for the country as a whole. Today we are announcing new measures to help them do so, including consulting on changes to permitted development rights to support rural diversification. This will look at whether there should be changes to the current rules in England, cutting red tape to make the planning process more straightforward for farmers so they can more easily improve their redundant agricultural buildings, helping to make their businesses more productive.

Homes and energy: We will facilitate the building of more homes for local people to buy where local communities want them and we will provide secure and resilient energy supplies. New measures announced today for England include funding of £2.5 million for a network of rural housing enablers to boost the supply of new, affordable housing by identifying development opportunities, supporting site owners and community representatives to navigate the planning system, and engaging with local communities to help shape developments. We are also providing local authorities with new powers to manage the impact of holiday lets on local communities—recognising their contribution to the tourism sector—and we will consult on making it easier for farmers to change their redundant agricultural buildings into family homes.

Communities: We want rural communities to continue to be places where people want to enjoy living. We will improve access to high-quality health care and take further action to tackle rural crime. New measures include the imminent publication of a dental plan for England that will help improve provision in rural areas. We will also put in place legislation this summer to increase fly-tipping and litter penalties, and intend to ringfence those penalties to tackle this blight on the countryside. We are also supporting the National Police Chiefs’ Council to establish a new National Rural Crime Unit to support police forces across Great Britain in their response to rural crimes. In addition to additional funding from the Home Office, DEFRA will fund a post within the National Rural Crime Unit to tackle fly-tipping across Great Britain.

“Unleashing Rural Opportunity” complements our annual rural report, to be published later this year. It will be published on today and a copy will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses.